Being gracious in victory and prepared with love

The final day of the football season brought its fair share of drama in the premier league as clubs competed fiercely to win the title and to avoid relegation to the championship. It was an absorbing day for football fans as goals were scored and pundits and analysts worked out all the possible implications for different teams if events stayed as they were.

At one point, it seemed as if my own team, Liverpool, were going to keep an unlikely quadruple dream alive and snatch the premier league title from under the nose of their fierce rivals Manchester City. Manchester City were two goals down with twenty minutes to play and, if Liverpool were to win their game and things stayed as they were, they would win the title.

Pep Guardiola

Manchester City made an inspired substitution and showed incredible courage and resourcefulness to score the three goals they needed to win the title. I loved the gracious words of their manager, Pep Guardiola, after the emotion of that victory. “I have never seen a team like Liverpool in my life. They help us, they push us.” Two of the Manchester City players also contributed gracious comments in their victory. Raheem Sterling said, “Liverpool are a great opponent. They push us, we are where we are because of them.”

Ilkay Gundogan observed, “Liverpool played an incredible season. If they were not there, I don’t think this league would have been that attractive. We pushed each other again to our limits. You need to appreciate what they have done. Congratulations to them and to my former coach, who I still like a lot. We are looking forward to competing with them again next season.”

There’s an art to winning graciously, recognising the efforts of your opponent and rivals and congratulating them. It acknowledges that you have both gone all out to win the prize and, on this occasion, you have done enough to secure the victory. I remember quite a few years ago writing to a political leader in this country after an election victory. The person concerned had won a very hard fought victory but, instead of acknowledging this, their victory speech belittled their opponent. It came across very badly to me at a time my young son was starting to play competitive sport. I wanted him to learn to win well and to lose well, to give of his best in whatever he took part in, but to be able to congratulate others who might do better than him and win the victory on the day. In victory, I wanted him to be respectful to his opponents rather than be triumphalist or smug and so I wrote to the politician concerned.

In fairness to the person concerned, they wrote back very quickly when I told them about the poor example they were setting and acknowledged their words and behaviour were ill judged and that they needed to do much better going forwards.

I have always respected that person for acknowledging that reality, but maybe its symptomatic of the divisive nature of politics in our country. Football rivalries are intense and ferocious, but I really admired the tone of Manchester City in their victory and, perhaps, both politics and the ‘church without walls’ have much to learn from that kind of conduct.

I have a friend who bakes lovely things and, on a few occasions during lockdown or at difficult moments in our family, they have left a parcel on the doorstep. It usually involves some amazing  things to eat and comes with a little label saying, ‘prepared with love by x’. Little gifts like that have the capacity to transform our day, especially when things are difficult .

I’m delighted to share a few photos of the downstairs rooms of the house we hope to rent for our Ukrainian family in the locality. The house is owned by our curate, Reverend Andy Hay, and his wife, Jackie. They were preparing the property to rent out when the war broke out in Ukraine. They made a decision to offer it to the church, who were looking for a property to rent to support a family seeking refuge in this country. The Hays have worked incredibly hard as a family to ensure this house is in wonderful order. It has been prepared with love to welcome the family as soon as visas are granted and they are permitted to travel, which we hope will be very soon. The people of the church have been extremely kind furnishing the house and ensuring that it will be a very welcoming and safe space for our guests when they come.

It made me think of that idea of things prepared with love. I think of all our volunteers in church looking after the grounds, the buildings, the people in our organisations. I thought of the challenge for the ‘church without walls’ to approach worship in that Spirit that everything we do, no matter how big or small, would be prepared with love. I thought about the way people pray for or write to someone in trouble. I thought about the hidden tasks like counting the money, reconciling the accounts. I thought of the letters written to ensure our governance is maintaining the highest standards. I thought of the technology prepared to stream services and the huge number of people doing what they can in their schools and workplaces to live for God. Can it all be prepared with love?

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

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