blog | 14.03.17
Ben Leathes and Andy Bryce were playing at Stewart’s Melville Rugby Club in Edinburgh when they came up with an idea. Their vision was to create a weekend where you could play rugby, watch the European Cup Final and find out about Christian faith. Since the first gathering in Cardiff in 2006, hundreds of players have joined their Christian teammates on a rugby weekend like no other.
The match sees a combined England and Wales team take on their Scottish and Irish counterparts and ahead of this year’s contest in May, the series stands at 5-5. These Anglo-Celtic clashes have provided plenty of stories to tell in their own right, but the weekends have consistently shown how God can work when His people step out in faith.
Ben explained: “We wanted to try and involve our teammates in a bit more of what we were about as Christians. At the same time, we were thinking we want to create a vehicle for other Christians to do the same. Sometimes it’s not easy to share our faith with our teammates, so we thought ‘what’s the easiest way to do that?’”
Creating an event around the European final and getting tickets for the big match proved a huge draw and brought players back year on year. While Ben and Andy drove the logistics and looked to ensure both teams had enough players and all the positions filled, many others really caught the vision too.
“We knew it had the right ingredients,” Andy explained. “If we got the tickets, people would bite your hands off for them. The day after the event, we were already looking for tickets for next year! It’s something that works. I genuinely think it could work with lots of different sports. How about the tennis Davis Cup? You could plan a playing and watching event around a home tie.”
The pair tweaked the format over the years and found the best plan was to have a meal and gospel talk straight after playing.
Ben said: “After the match, we sat down for a meal together to enjoy that camaraderie that comes with rugby and hear a talk explaining the Christian faith. That was a huge part of what we were trying to achieve. It felt almost like a mini rugby tour. That first year we had a bit of a ‘court session’ on the Saturday night and some people ended up having to eat a few raw items!”
Andy and Ben have now passed the organisation on to Christians in Sport staff members Dave Hampton and Mike Harris, who have been involved since their own student days. But they remain hugely encouraged at how God has used the rugby weekends.
“There’s no doubt that people who have come on this weekend have become Christians,” said Ben. “I can think of two guys in particular who came on three or four of those weekends we organised and are now Christians as a result. It’s those stories that make it so worthwhile.”
Andy added: “For the first one, I had to get Christians in Sport to write a letter to the school where I was teaching, so I could get the Friday off to travel down to Cardiff!
“When we started it, we hoped it could become like this. At the first one, there was a high percentage of Christians. After that, we said ‘you’ve seen it now, why not bring a mate next time’. Now there are around 45% guests coming and they’re inviting their friends too.”
Since the tops are provided, Andy said there is a Barbarians feel as everyone is playing in their own club’s shorts and socks.
“That is a special part of rugby as it accepts that people are individuals and brings them together for a team.”
Each year, the teams compete for the Thimble Trophy, but Andy explained all is not quite what it seems.
“We were going to watch the Heineken Cup Final, which was a huge match, so we wanted to have a thimble as our trophy because our match was so much smaller. But the engraver misspelt it, so it’s actually the Thinble Trophy!”
This year’s rugby weekend will link in with the Champions Cup Final in Newcastle on May 10th -12th. For more information, visit christiansinsport.org.uk/championscup
Christians in Sport is a UK based charity that aims to reach the world of sport for Jesus. We mainly work with sportspeople in competitive and elite sport.
Registered Charity England and Wales 1086570.
Registered Charity Scotland SCO45299.
Company number: 4146081
Photos (c) Shutterstock unless specified