The roar of the crowd, the sound of men crashing into one another as they fight for the ball, the cheers and jeers of fans as teams score – it’s time for Rugby World Cup 2015. And churches in England are asking for prayer as they prepare to share the gospel with hundreds of thousands of rugby spectators.
From Sept. 18 to Oct. 31, 11 cities across England and Wales will host 48 tournament matches played by 20 teams from around the world. Team USA opposes Samoa in their first match on Sept. 20, followed by matches against Scotland on Sept. 27, South Africa on Oct. 7, and Japan on Oct. 11.
In 1845, three students at Rugby School in England published the rules for what is now known as rugby. Little did they know their schoolyard game would someday become the third most watched sporting event in the world: the Rugby World Cup (RWC).
For David Chawner, a retired Baptist pastor and rugby chaplain for 15 years, RWC is more than an exciting time to watch rugby. He sees it as an opportunity.
“Here’s a chance for us to find something which a large percentage of the population [is] interested in,” he said. “Around that, [we] can engage with them, get to know them, and also let them know there are Christians involved in the sport and it’s relevant to faith. Faith is relevant to the whole of life.”
That’s why Chawner helped pioneer Engage 2015, an initiative with a mission of “equipping churches to engage with Rugby World Cup 2015.”
“It’s important in an event like this, to try to get the message over to churches that we can meet people where they are rather than expecting them to meet us where we are,” Chawner said.
Engage 2015 offers resources to assist churches with outreach during RWC.
“What we’ve specifically done is try to come up with a range of ideas, and resources to back them up, that fit into a local church’s outreach program,” Chawner said.
He said Engage 2015 can provide videos of Christian rugby players, a sweepstakes app to encourage friendly competition, a rugby quiz, a sports-themed book of Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and prayer and events resources for any church to use.
While Engage 2015 has appeared to build a team spirit among churches in England, those helping with the effort hope to involve others throughout the world in praying for the tournament. On Sept. 17, the day before the tournament begins, Christians from every nation are encouraged to pray for the players, fans and churches in England at 8 p.m. their local time and then tweet using the hashtag #RWCPrayerWave. The prayer wave will be tracked online and can be seen at engage2015.co.uk.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Conners is a writer for the London Bureau of Baptist Press.)