THE Archbishop of Canterbury’s cricket team was formed with the intention of building up relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Just four years on, its ambitions have broadened to include interfaith dialogue and relationships.
Already earlier this summer, players from the Archbishop’s XI formed a joint team with the Vatican to play (and beat) an interfaith team at Lord’s Nursery Ground (News,13 July).
Last week, the ABC XI conducted a two-day Festival of Unity. The team included new players from across the country, mostly ordinands or curates, as part of the team’s formational purpose.
The matches were hosted by London Maccabi Vale, a Jewish cricket club based in north London. At the last minute, the Sikh side, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, was unable to find enough players and had to drop out. Thus the ABC XI played Maccabi Vale in two T20 fixtures, with a win for each side.
In the first match, Maccabi Vale made 141 for 4. In response, the ABC XI reached 134 for 3. In the second match, ABC XI scored 175 for 5; Maccabi Vale made 130 for 7.
The most notable performance came from Sam Rylands, who scored a century in the second game to take the ABC XI to victory. The true highlight of the day, however, came during an evening of interfaith dialogue, fuelled generously by Maccabi Vale. The Revd Chris Kennedy (ABC XI captain) hosted a discussion that involved Rabbi Nicki Liss (Highgate Synagogue), Esmond Rosen (Barnet Interfaith forum), the Revd Laurence Hillel (London Inter Faith Centre), and David Hampshire (Inter Faith Network UK).
Mr Kennedy asked, how were they truly to love one another while acknowledging and cherishing our differences? Many answers were given, but Mr Hampshire argued that sport provided the perfect opportunity for camaraderie and friendship, uniting people with differences through a common passion. Mr Rosen concluded by arguing that, as all religions share a goal of peace, joint action to bless the whole community was the best way to promote interfaith understanding.
This was put into practice the next day, as the festival welcomed the Refugee Cricket Project, run in partnership with the Change Foundation. A team of Afghan refugees, aged 16-19, arrived, and while the games were both close, proceeded to defeat both London Maccabi Vale and the Archbishop’s XI. In the match against the ABC XI, the refugees project finished on 144 for 6; the ABC XI made 137 for 4.
What was clear for all to see was the Afghans’ passion and no little talent for the game. The refugee cricket project-leader, Antonia Cohen, explained: “Cricket has provided a significant number of our individuals with many benefits and opportunities. The warmth and respect with which they are often welcomed on the cricket pitch, where they are seen as players rather than refugees, means an enormous amount to them. At the same time, playing cricket has provided an almost unique opportunity to introduce them to the diversity of the UK and its communities.”
The ABC XI resolved to return to their parishes and raise £2000 to provide better equipment for the project. Any reader wishing to support this cause can donate here.
After the festival, the team went for a change of scenery. They joined the Revd Steve Gray, their former captain, for morning prayer in the chapel at Eton College, where he is Conduct. After a tour of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the team played a return match against the Royal Household Cricket Club in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
The game was close, and Chris Lee batted strongly, to bring his side within sight of victory. He needed two off the final delivery to draw the game, three to win (and bring up his own half-century). But the ball went straight to mid-wicket for just one run, which was also the margin of defeat. The Royal Household made 152 for 5; the ABC XI managed 151 for 6.
Despite the team’s results, three defeats and one win, the tour was deemed a resounding success, forging new friendships across social and religious boundaries, and paving the way for future conversations.