Active life and active faith #OneDiocese blog

Published: Friday September 3, 2021

Rob in his wedding suit, standing next to a boy on a slackline, ready to help him if he fallsRob French, Head of Sports Ministry for Sportily shares his faith story for our #OneDiocese blog.

“Farrier, footballer, farmer, firefighter…. All jobs that I wanted to do when I was growing up. Also, a nice bit of coincidental alliteration which will be pleasing to some of you and sickening to others. I still don’t know what I want to do when I finally do grow up but for now, I work as a Sports Minister for Sportily (formerly OneLife) and love it. The big event of my summer has been getting married to my wonderful new wife, Helen. We felt hugely blessed to enjoy a relatively ‘normal’ wedding day celebrating with friends and family at the beginning of July. Various guests having a go on the slackline was a particular highlight of the day! Google it if you’re not sure what slacklines are.

“I’m originally from Ipswich where my parents and many of my close friends still live. My brother has now headed up to Scotland and runs an outdoor adventurous activities company there. Throughout childhood, I’d rarely be seen sitting still. After school, I’d ride bikes with friends, play sports in the local park and create challenges in the garden. I most enjoyed just being able to give loads of different sports a try, sometimes inventing my own games, discovering the joy of having a go at anything, regardless of whether I was any good at it or not. The chance to mess around with mates whilst doing some sort of physical activity is still one of my favourite things to do.

Growing up, the sense of community I experienced as a part of the local church youth group was a huge part of my faith journey. I also had the opportunity to go on various residentials throughout my teenage years which were probably the first opportunity for me to see older Christians who were clearly passionate about their faith but who also enjoyed getting stuck in with playing sport. Until that point sport and faith had largely been separate activities for me. After school, I came to Gloucestershire for university, to study Sports Education. During those three years, my relationship which God grew deeper, more intentional and I became passionate about wanting to give others an opportunity to also encounter the person of Jesus.

“During my time at university I was a part of the tennis team and I further saw how my faith and love for sport could go hand in hand. Growing in my understanding that sport (and more generally all types of physical activity) was a gift from God to be enjoyed, enabled me to share more openly with teammates. I also took myself and probably sport itself less seriously although this doesn’t mean I didn’t try my absolute best. I just wasn’t as concerned with winning and the outcome was no longer the main motivation.

After finishing university, I decided that I didn’t want to be a PE teacher any longer, but I was still passionate about sports and my faith had become the most important thing in my life. I ended up getting a job as a Sport and Community worker in Upper Rissington which is in the North Cotswolds. It perhaps wasn’t the most common move for a 21-year-old graduate student, but it felt like a clear opportunity that God seemed to be opening for me.

“During this time, I can’t claim to have had much idea about what I was doing. I decided that I would get stuck in with village life as much as possible and would have to trust God with whatever happened.

“It felt so far out of my natural comfort zone and I was really forced to rely on God’s power at work in and through me.

“During my three years in Upper Rissington, I saw the beauty and variety of God’s Church more clearly – the need for all people to have an opportunity to respond to the love God has for them and the role that sport can have in providing a context for relationships to grow and faith to be explored. It was a special time as we saw a community-based, pretty raw expression of what it meant to be Church emerge from the community sports work we were doing.

In my role with Sportily now I’m keen to see the Church joining God in His mission to the world.

“I believe that sport, as a gift from God, is something to be enjoyed and should be something that as Church we are actively engaged with.

“The way that we ‘do’ Church needs to change if we are to engage with people for whom the church has become irrelevant. However, the message of good news that Jesus Christ died for us that we may live in relationship with him remains constant. It’s a calling that as Church we should take seriously but we should have lots of fun whilst doing it. Let’s go!”

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