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Church of England backs sports ministry

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Sports and fitness activities are to be championed as part of plans by the Church of England to reach more people with the message of the Christian faith and promote the wellbeing of communities, it is announced today. This will include the outreach and community clubs of The Sports Factory in Norwich (pictured) as it continues to grow in its work; impacting and engaging with people of all ages, abilities, and locations both urban and rural.

Ruth Anderson, the founder of Sports Factory, has said about the heart behind the programme:

“Sport is an easy conversation starter; it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can still enjoy watching a sporting event together. On a Saturday morning, Sports Factory runners are found at the local Park Run’s with yellow Sports Factory T-shirts saying “We Believe” on the back. They meet to pray and then join the run and see if God provides any opportunities to chat to people about Jesus. The thing I love about sports ministry is that it is simple, it’s easy, it’s really good for you and it works. The Sports Factory seeks to combine the power of sport with the power of God, the one who created it.”

Seven dioceses across the country in areas such as Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Kent, Lancashire, Norfolk and Surrey, are to take part in pilot projects to include sport and wellbeing into their mission.

The dioceses hope to help provide  activities ranging from personal fitness classes to holiday football clubs, outdoor pursuits and even sports quizzes. In the Diocese of Gloucester, the Church of England is planning to develop a network of sport and wellbeing centres with participants invited to explore and respond to the Christian faith.

In Lancashire, in the Diocese of Blackburn, sports quizzes are already arranged for churches by the group Christians in Sport and churches have been active in setting up holiday sports schemes and personal fitness classes.

Training for lay and ordained leaders in sports and wellbeing ministry is being provided as part of the programme by Ridley Hall, the Anglican theological college in Cambridge.

The Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane, newly designated lead Bishop for Sport, welcomed the pilot projects.

She said:

“Sport is such a valued and valuable part of our lives: shaping our identity, contributing to our economy, offering opportunities for societal and personal development.

“Sports ministry has the potential to transform lives and communities for good through improved health and well-being, personal mentoring, leadership development and community cohesion. These projects are good news, sharing the Christian faith in word and action.”

The Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, Dave Male, said:

“The Church of England has always been involved in sport – this is about rediscovering our roots and association with sports and wellbeing.

“We believe that this work presents the Church of England with an opportunity through its dioceses to reach many millions of people who would not otherwise be in church on a Sunday.”

Professor Andrew Parker, Professor of Sports Ministry at Ridley Hall, who is a member of the steering group overseeing the plans, said:

“A lot of people have an interest in sport and we expect this work to reach across all age ranges, in all areas of the country and to people of all sporting persuasions and abilities.

“These pilots show that the Church is intentional about making a connection between sport and Christianity and engaging in conversations around gifts, talents, passions and faith.”