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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

In the league which truly counts


So there we were on the Jungfraujoch, in conversation with a family from Malaysia.  And then the inevitable question:  “And where are you from?”  By this stage I knew how to respond appropriately: “I’m from near Liverpool but I support Everton!”

 

Whoever we spoke with in Switzerland, as soon as I mentioned that we were from near Liverpool, the response would be the same: LFC!  However, what was truly amazing was that as soon as I would declare my allegiance to EFC, the rejoinder was always:  “Good result for you last Tuesday!” 

 

It seemed everyone we spoke with – hotel receptionists, waiters, fellow tourists, other diners, whoever– knew that we had beaten Liverpool 2-0 at Goodison Park, in a match crucial for both clubs. 

 

And of course, everyone has their own team which they support, sadly usually Man United.   However, I was delighted to discover that the father of our waiter at the Hotel Krebs supported Everton.  I immediately celebrated this with the adjoining table of a group of Poles, who immediately offered me their sympathy. 

 

Of course, I knew that the Premier League had a truly global reach, broadcast in 212 territories to 643 million homes, with a potential television audience of 4.7 billion people.  But to discover this on the ground, in the heart of the  Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, came as a surprise, to the extent that everyone we spoke with knew the result of the Derby match. 

 

A fascinating and lengthy article I came across in today’s New York Times caught my attention: “A Race the Whole World Is Watching” (the NYT likes capitalisation!).

 

So the NYT explains:  “The teams might bear the names of English towns, the stadiums might sit on English soil and the stands might still be primarily filled with English fans, but the Premier League slipped its borders long ago.

 

“Their results have been followed just as avidly in North America, Africa, Asia and countless other places, where fans rise early, stay up late and seek out any screen they can to follow their teams.”

 

And it concludes: “The world’s most popular sports league has, for some time, been a global soccer competition that just happens to be staged in England.”

Finally, “this may be modern Britain’s greatest cultural export.”

 

Jacqui and I often stroll through Stanley Park, impressively reordered with its magnificent Isla Gladstone Conservatory.  Here you realise how very close our two football clubs are currently situated, at least for one more season.  And yet in this deprived area of the city are situated two establishments of international renown.  Very local but truly global, to coin a phrase. 

 

But even more so for the church, both local  - often very much so, with a wide-ranging local network – and truly global.  I notice, for example, in this morning’s Daily News Digest from the CofE (worth subscribing to, it’s free) that the Archbishop of Canterbury is travelling to Zanzibar this weekend to visit the Anglican church in the region and meet with political and religious leaders.

 

Zanzibar!  How often does that come up in conversation? And I guess that not many people could locate Zanzibar on a map.  Clue – it’s in Africa.  And yet Archbishop Justin is taking time out to get there. 

 

Even our own parish church, firmly rooted in the local community, sent a group to Uganda at Easter, not your usual tourist destination.  And arriving tomorrow is Christian Aid week, an expression of the global concern which should be present in all Christians.

 

It’s one thing supporting Everton, knowing that you are part of a worldwide following, but this simply pales into insignificance when set alongside belonging to the church of the risen Jesus, a fellowship across the world and over the ages. 

 

But this was not inevitable.  Just ask the apostle Paul. 

 

I’m currently going through his letter to the Galatians in my BRF Guideline notes.  Here the church, which the apostle founded, has been infiltrated by teachers insisting that the Gentile members be circumcised to make them Jewish and so qualify as belonging to the covenant people of God. 

 

No way, argues Paul.  All that is necessary is a decision to entrust your life to Jesus, the Son of God, no more.  He asserts: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Galatians 3:26-29

 

Elsewhere, in a similar passage, Paul spells this out:  “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11).  Or as the Message translation concludes: “From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.”

 

This was a battle which had to be fought if the church of Christ is to be truly international, and it’s a battle which continues to be fought as we resist the pull of individualism and using the word in the popular, negative sense, being parochial and inward-looking.

 

This is especially so in our prayer, as we resolve to support our fellow disciples throughout the globe.  In fact as part of my own spiritual discipline , each morning I use prayer diaries from CMS, OM, TearFund and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, praying for people and churches I would not normally encounter in places I have never heard of. 

 

It’s one thing to support EFC but so much more fundamental to support our fellow Christians all over the world.  After all, in the league which truly counts, we know – in the words of Paul – we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 

 


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