Saturday, May 07, 2016

Politics and Sport: a Bristol Tale

Today has been a day of politics and sport in my home city of Bristol.

I started the day by listening to a talk by Tim Dobson from Woodlands Church on Reaching your City. Tim argued that for the church to reach its city, it had to be actively involved across all the spheres of city life, a dynamic presence in the heart of politics, sport, the arts, education, rather than acting as a separate entity alongside them.

Later that day, having failed to get tickets for the sell-out match, I was listening on the radio to the last Bristol Rovers game of the season. If other results went their way, and if Rovers won the match (against already relegated Dagenham and Redbridge), then the Bristol side would win automatic promotion to League One of the Football League. Glorious as that would be, even more magnificent was the prospect of securing promotion for the second season in a row - a feat never before achieved by Bristol Rovers. 

Meanwhile, in the minutes before kick-off, as Rovers made their final preparations for their vital end-of-season encounter, the results of Bristol's mayoral election were trickling through. Second-choice votes were being counted, but it looked to informed observers as if Labour Party candidate Marvin Rees had won the contest, replacing incumbent Independent Mayor George Ferguson who had been elected in 2012. As Lee Brown tapped in the 92nd-minute goal which secured Rovers' promotion,  the results of the Mayoral election had been confirmed. The Gas were going up; Marvin Rees was Bristol's new elected mayor.  

After Marvin's unsuccessful attempt at becoming elected Mayor in 2012, he was interviewed by Andy Flannagan of Christians on the Left about the intersection between his Christian faith and his political vocation. Rees cites the biblical idea of the Year of Jubilee - the releasing of debts and the proclaiming of liberty - as the overarching narrative that defines his understanding of his own politics. 

Meanwhile, wandering down the Gloucester Road after the match, which was heaving with the blue and white shirts of thousands of Rovers fans, I saw some of the uglier side of our city's life. A Muslim women, fully veiled in a Niqab and with a young daughter and a baby in a pushchair, was waiting at a bus stop as hundreds of the fans streamed past, many spilling onto the busy road, cheering and shouting. Several white men, middle-aged, bald headed, flashed Nazi salutes as they marched past the family. The sight of such hostility and prejudice was shocking, but gave me an insight into what may be a semi-regular feature of life for some of our Muslim neighbours in a society where racism and Islamophobia seem to be on the rise.    

In the pre-match build up, I saw this clip about Bristol Rovers chaplain Dave Jeal. His story of transformation from football hooligan to football chaplain is an inspiring tale of restoration. He now serves as the chaplain at the stadium from which he was once banned. 

I think Tim Dobson was correct. The church has much still to do to be be present, prayerful and authentic in our witness to God's kingdom, a reality which still has the answers to the real issues in our city. 

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