During the week I had a strange dream…
… Dear Fr John, I was having a few jars with Jurgen and Pep and some of the lads, talking about the crowds coming back to watch football. You know the excitement. We also talked about that idea of a Super League – and the fans were the ones who said no: loyalty and love of football stood out as the reasons, loyalty to the smaller clubs and love of the game itself.
Then, suddenly, we were talking about church and religion as well as football. We all have a faith background. Your people are coming back but no crowds there, sadly. More people attend a Leicester City game on Sunday than attend mass in all the Catholic churches in the Nottingham diocese. It’s an even worse contrast in Liverpool and Manchester. That’s terrible failure. Less than 30,000 in all the Catholic churches in the diocese, many fewer than the numbers at one game at the King Power Stadium. The Kop, Goodison, Old Trafford and the Etiad have crowds far greater than all the churches together in those two cities.
We looked at your structures and wondered that your academies seem good but few go on to pray at the adult level. There is surprising contrast between the number of your churches and the relatively few people that come. We saw an almost total lack of involvement by the people – while in football the fans create the atmosphere, make everything alive.
We sing far better than you do in church, yet you have far better hymns and hyrs than we have – but we do sing, whereas church people show little enthusiasm or interest and many don’t bother to sing or follow the prayer at all. You seem to have little enthusiasm, and we have plenty. A football game lasts longer than mass, but no one grumbles. Too many of your people come late or last minute and go as soon as they can. Don’t they like each other? “Let’s get it over with” we hear that some of them say. Why is something so beautiful as mass reduced to a boring duty to be got out of the way? That has to be your fault.
We analysed your style. You pray from the back, leave gaps in mid benches and hardly anyone is praying up front. No strikers. How do you achieve your goals? Why do you pray like that? Why do your academies produce so few good prayers? Why do you stay with old style religion and look for nothing creative or personal? You repeat and repeat and you should be recreating, recreating. You seem bored and yet you believe you have the most wonderful loving God. We play and love football. Do you pray and love God?
Jesus had a good squad and they were a team. He spoke, they believed, they carried his loving message. What’s happened? You build churches, hire business models, raise money but never enough for your ambitions.
Your ambitions. Is God ambitious – for money, success, power, lords, eminences? God is love – that is your message. So simple. Football is sport – that’s ours. Why does sport beat love? Perhaps people from sport are more genuine than people in religion? Fr John, do you think you could interest the Dragons’ Den in your product?
. . . . . Dear Brendan, It was good of you to write and you so busy preparing for next week’s cup final. Your questions and advice are challenging. We’ll print them in our parish newsletter and invite our apostles and epistles to a socially-distancing maskwearing open meeting. We shall draw up a mission statement (the Church is good at those) employ experts to send reams of paper everywhere, propose synods, conferences, assemblies, invite guest speakers, hire halls, work out car-parking.
Increasing entropy we call it, when the emptier the vessel the greater the movement and the louder the noise. Sadly, we’ve been doing it for years. But at your words we shall let out the nets. All the best for next week! Fr John.
Dear Fr John, you have the most wonderful mission statement in the history of the world – good news to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind, setting the downtrodden free. Keep it simple.
God bless us with happy faithful lives and dreams,
(2nd May 2021)