THE Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, has described sport as a way in which the Church of England can “spread the Kingdom of God and the gospel”.
On Monday, Bishop Lane, who is the new designated Bishop for Sport, spoke to the Church Times about what sport does for women as well as for the ministry of the Church.
“I come as a fan, not as an elite participant — but sport enables women to find identity and purpose and companionship, and to grow in confidence. That’s really important, both in the UK and across the world.
“The numbers of people participating in sport that the Church currently has a poor record of engaging with is significant. Between 35 and 40 per cent of black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) communities, 55 per cent of 15- to 25-year-olds, 1.6 million people with disabilities, and nearly 90 per cent of children under the age of 16 play sport regularly. Those are demographics that we’re not doing very well at making contact with. This may be an avenue whereby the Church can do so, and that is a good thing.”
She continued: “Within that, we may be able to offer provision for people which serves their flourishing and well-being, as well as the common good. That is what the Kingdom of God is about. So, sport may be a way of growing the Kingdom of God for the Church. It may also be a way of building relationships with those people which means there are opportunities to share the gospel.” However, she also stated that although that “may be an outcome, it needn’t be, the only motivator for being involved in sport for churches or diocesan projects.”
She also said that engagement with sport should benefit not just the Church, but be of good for the whole of society.
“I think that sport is a huge part of who we are as a nation. It shapes our culture, our identity, our cohesion, our well-being, our sense of self, and our sense of place in society. If we are concerned about the whole of human life, then for the church to have a voice in that is vital.”
Seven dioceses — Birmingham, Blackburn, Gloucester, Guildford, London (Kensington Area), Norwich, and Rochester — are currently taking part in a national sports and well-being initiative, in partnership with Christians in Sport, Sports Chaplaincy UK, the Scripture Union, and Ambassadors Football.
Activities include church volunteers’ holding games sessions in schools, using PE as a teaching aid in religious-studies lessons, and football tournaments in cathedrals.
Bishop Lane emphasised “the long and honourable history” of Christian engagement with sport. Commenting on the athletes themselves, she said “It’s a sign of the wonder and glory of God that our bodies can do such extraordinary things.”
Read more on sports ministry in our feature