Anglican lay minister Pete Horsford is a sports chaplain at St Columb’s, in Melbourne’s inner east, where he has introduced an innovative indoor cricket championship to address the needs of the local Swinburne student community and other cricket lovers, Julie Houghton writes.
What is the competition like?
Picture a ‘Boys Own’ mini sports stadium in a church! Spectators sitting on pews, loud music, intense competition, the ball whizzing around people’s ears, decision review systems, live streaming, sweat, tears, sledging and unbridled joy—all under the umbrella of a loving Christian community. Three hundred smelly players in 30 teams are playing high-stakes cricket once a week.
How many players take part?
St Columb’s Premier League has been a cricket and friendship home for more than 7,000 players in the last nine years. The players come from many different backgrounds, cultures and religions. Each year we begin our season with a three-week pseudo ‘World Cup’ with often 8–10 nations represented.
The competition has evolved over time to include a significant number of ‘once students’ who have migrated to the workforce and now live as permanent residents.
There are also large numbers of born-and-bred Australians playing and enjoying their weekly sporting fix. Each culture brings their own particular flavour or brand of cricket to the table and the results can be quite incendiary.
What kind of difference is it making to their lives?
We are creating something enormously precious in their lives, an experience they cherish each week or, for some, a treasure that they’ve found. They have this experience in a place that is unmistakably God’s—the players have entered a surprising, loving Christian community, it just happens to be a cricket one.
What kind of feedback do you get?
The most common feedback we get is that people have found something they treasure. It could be the community, the game itself, perhaps discovering ‘belonging’ to a group, or the mix of no-holds-barred cricket in a seemingly ‘holy building’.
I think the most significant and often expressed sentiment we see is summed up in this way: “We feel good about ourselves when we’re here.” It seems that when people enter genuine Christian community it can be a remarkable experience.
Being loved with the love Christ has bestowed on us is a powerful thing. Interestingly, after being loved, respected and accepted, the players begin to treat each other the same way. Cricket seems to have a unique ability to speak one language to many with different faith or cultural backgrounds.
How important do you think this kind of Christian outreach is?
Christian outreach is highly important to me. In the context of using cricket to point people towards Christ I guess it’s not a usual ‘church tactic’ but I think our culture is changing so quickly we need to be brave, creative and willing to explore less conventional ways of commending Christ.
What made you feel you were called to do God’s work?
My sense from a very young age was that one day I would work for the church. I just always knew the Holy Spirit was drawing me in that direction. I grew up as the son of an Anglican minister. Holidays and weekends would often mean cricket matches against my brother in whichever church hall we happened to be living alongside at the time.
The most natural thing in the world was to introduce cricket into our current 130-year-old building at St Columb’s. Cricket is such a natural starting point for friendship, belonging, conversations and enjoyment. In short, it’s an excellent vehicle for the Gospel.