As any old player or bumper car sticker will tell you, Rugby is the game played in heaven.
With the start of the World Cup Tournament the faithful are already receiving a fair slice of that celestial destination right here on earth.
Thanks to the Australian Rugby Union marketing division that message has been spread far and wide – over 20 teams will play 48 matches at 10 venues around the nation in front of 1.6 million stadium fans and a global TV audience of 3 billion.
Packing down in the fray for the first time, however, will be the Rugby World Cup Ministry Outreach team, an ecumenical army of volunteers from the Christian Churches hoping to tap into the crowd’s passion and energy with a simple message of hospitality and service.
On game days the Outreach teams will be outside venues getting into the festival atmosphere by offering free face painting, refreshments, live music and appearances by past and present Rugby players.
They will also act as an invaluable resource for some of the less well-funded rugby nations by organising local families to provide home hosting for the families and friends of players.
The whole area of Sports Ministry was first trialed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Given the sport mad nature of Australia it was understandably a wild success and a decision was made to reprise it at the Rugby World Cup.
Chris Ehler, a Brisbane member of the Rugby World Cup Ministry Outreach Committee, said the idea behind the Ministry was to give Christians a chance to live their faith, through acts of hospitality and service.
“People love to look for opportunities of connecting with one another and experiencing a genuine community, that’s why they go to the rugby in the first place or in our case practice Christianity,” Ehler said.
“This was a great chance for people to witness their faith, and not just the fans either as many players on the pitch are committed Christians as well.
“Jason Robinson from England is one and Nick Farr Jones, the great Australian captain, another, who are equally happy to talk about their Christian faith as well as their love of football,” he said.
To assist in their Ministry, the Outreach teams have worked with the Bible Society to produce some eye-catching World Cup literature in time for the tournament.
These include special editions of the Gospel of Mark (called The Game Played In Heaven) and a sport lover’s version of the New Testament liberally sprinkled with Christian testimonies from noteworthy Australian and New Zealand rugby union and league players.
In Brisbane, the Catholic Church is going the extra mile by celebrating a special Rugby World Cup Mass at the Cathedral on October 16th, two days before a major Australian game at Suncorp Stadium.
Over 90 former International and State players have been invited to attend the Mass whilst in the spirit of the ‘true colours’ theme the general public are being encouraged to don their favourite rugby jerseys for the service.
For a town that has been yielded to the victorious Lions and AFL over recent weeks, the Christians are very keen to take up the running.
Released by the Catholic Communications Office Brisbane