2 September 2023

World in union

Major Andrew Vertigan

A photo shows a rugby team holding a member aloft and cheering.

Before the Rugby World Cup 2023 kicks off on 8 September, Major Andrew Vertigan celebrates the advantage of unity.

I am a passionate rugby union fan. I have played and refereed matches and now I coach other referees for the Rugby Football Union, the governing body of the sport in England. When I was first commissioned as an officer, the idea of me playing rugby raised a few eyebrows. On Saturdays I played the sport I loved and on Sundays I found myself in the pulpit. Thirty years on, rugby has created opportunities for me to have conversations about faith and God as well as sport.

Rugby union can be a brutal contact sport, but there is something deeply harmonious, even spiritual, in the game. The New Zealand All Blacks greet their opponents with the Haka. The Fiji team members pray together, before hitting their opponents with a body-crunching tackle that I affectionately call the Fijian Kiss!

This September and October, supporters from different countries and teams will sit in stadiums across France, singing and shouting alongside each other, with rarely a cross word spoken. There can be no greater sound than the Welsh national anthem or the French or Italian patriotic choruses!

The game unites people from all walks of life, irrespective of race or creed. I often think to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the Church was as united around our common love?’ Psalm 133:1 says: ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’

This was demonstrated during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when Nelson Mandela presented the winning South African team with the Webb Ellis Cup, wearing a Springbok shirt with the number of team captain François Pienaar. Post-apartheid, it was a deeply symbolic moment of people united in their common love – a true sign of unity in diversity.

The Rugby World Cup has its own anthem, ‘World in Union’. It was first sung at Twickenham in 1991 by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. The lyrics include: ‘There’s a dream, I feel,/ So rare, so real./ All the world in union,/ The world as one,/ Gathering together,/ One mind, one heart./ Every creed, every colour,/ Once joined, never apart.’

While sadly I fear that England may not win the Rugby World Cup this year, I pray and hope that rugby’s essence of unity and diversity will continue to define it. I long for a world where we are all one in unity, while celebrating our diversity.

Reflect and respond

  • Read Psalm 133:1. How are you demonstrating unity in diversity?
  • Read Ephesians 4:1–13. How are you building team and working together with others from different spaces and places, skills and gifts?
  • Revisit the lyrics to the World Cup anthem. What are you dreaming of for God’s people?

Written by

Photo of Andrew Vertigan.

Major Andrew Vertigan

Territorial Pioneer and Fresh Expression Enabler, THQ

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