The Church of England has published advice for churches on how to make the most of the World Cup – including staging a football-themed nativity play and moving the date of carol services.
While human rights protesters have raised concerns about the global event being held in Qatar from later this month, the CofE has produced "ideas for how you could use the World Cup as a missional tool this Advent and Christmas," and published them on its 'Church Support Hub' website.
The ideas include a football-themed nativity play, with the shepherds debating whether the 'new king' will be greater than football stars Ronaldo, Messi or De Bruyne – and angels singing 'He's coming soon' to the tune of the English fans' anthem, 'Football's coming home.'
Protests have been made about the Middle Eastern country's record on human rights, the number of workers that died during the construction of the tournament venues, the timing of the tournament – mid-season for many northern hemisphere nations – and the process that gave rise to the high-profile event being awarded to a nation without a footballing heritage.
But churches and other Christian organisations have highlighted the opportunities for evangelism and mission, with the event's closing stages taking place in the run-up to Christmas. The CofE's advice to churches describes football as "a valuable mission tool."
The CofE has flagged up a potential clash between the World Cup final taking place on Sunday December 18th – just a week before Christmas Day – and any carol services scheduled for the same day.
It advises: "On December 18th, churches often hold carol services in the afternoon or evening, and this could still be possible if you choose the time carefully ... but what if there are penalties?! It may be best to avoid that day altogether and host a carol service on Saturday 17th instead."
The advice continues: "Despite this clash of dates, football and faith don't have to be at odds with one another, whether you love it or not, there's no escaping the fact that football and the Church have a conjoined heritage.
"Avid footy fans may well know that several Premier League football clubs of today started up as parish church football teams, set up for the health and wellbeing of those local communities. They were established to have a positive impact, especially in communities where poverty and deprivation hindered any kind of thriving."
The ideas being promoted by the CofE for its 13,000 parishes across England to make the most of the World Cup final include advice to:
- Watch the game and join with others at your local sports club, pub, or invite neighbours to your home. Offer to lead some carols, perhaps sharing a sport and faith testimony after the game, with an invitation to Christmas services or to explore faith through sessions such as Alpha after Christmas.
- Screen the game in church with refreshments. Again, offer an invitation to something more after the screening.
- Host a Christmas sports day instead of your regular collective worship at a local school.
- Host a sports quiz and carols at an alternative time to the final.
- Organise a Christmas-themed, sports mission event in a public place such as a park, recreation ground, after school event, or sports club including "a simple football game and 'multisports' event interweaving Advent and Christmas themes into the activities rather than as a slot at the end."
The advice from the CofE also includes co-operation with other Christian groups involved in sports chaplaincy.
Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, and a season ticket holder at Premier League club, Brentford FC. He has written and broadcast about the close links between faith and football.