Come Together 

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

I love sport, and in my humble opinion, the summertime was made for it.   
During my childhood, growing-up in Worcester, a large chunk of my summer holidays was spent ‘round our local playing field “The Lodge”, where there was nearly always a group of mates playing cricket or football.   
And plenty of summer Saturdays were spent watching first class cricket at Worcestershire’s world famous New Road ground. My brother and I were both avid collectors of cricketers’ autographs, which I stored in a big red book.   
That autograph book – still a treasured possession - had a separate page for each first class county. And so, along with many other lads, we’d be at the ground early in the morning, and stay ‘till well beyond close of play, trying to get the famous (and not-at-all-famous) to sign their name in the appropriate county’s page.   
I guess the most prized signature we were all after, was that of the great West Indian all-rounder Gary Sobers, he played county cricket for Nottinghamshire, and in 1968, became the first batsman to hit six sixes in one over.  
I still vividly remember the afternoon Mr Sobers made all of us patiently and eagerly queue up in single file behind his car, whilst he sat in the passenger seat dutifully signing each lad’s autograph book.  
Of course, summertime also meant tennis, and although empty courts were at a premium during the Wimbledon fortnight, I spent many summer evenings during my teenage years playing tennis with my mate Paul Beckley.   
Although, forty or more years later, the thought of me playing loads of sport never gets beyond the theoretical – the spirit is willing, but the body is, most definitely, weak – I remain an avid sporting spectator.   
One of the benefits of the pandemic’s decimation of last year’s sporting calendar, is that May to September of 2021 is jam-packed with athletic treats. No sooner have we said goodbye to Euro 2020 and Wimbledon, then we’ll be saying “hello” to the Open Golf at Royal St Georges, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, the British Lions tour of South Africa, the new One Hundred cricket competition, and not forgetting that the Tokyo Olympics will be with us before the month is out.   
And then it’s August, and before the summer ends, the new football season begins.  Sporting heaven!   
Following last weekend’s quarter final victory over Ukraine, Gareth Southgate made an insightful observation of the potential for sport to draw people together, rather than cause division.  
“After what has been a turbulent, but also a slightly divisive time, it’s a privilege to be able give people at home these sort of memories”, said the England manager. “They remember where they were on these sorts of nights, when everybody comes together; communities come together, families come together”.   
Southgate’s right, isn’t he?  Discord and division has been a common experience during these seemingly endless pandemic times.   
As well as the physical separation from loved ones and work colleagues, that most of us have had to endure, dissidence and dispute over issues such as mask-wearing and vaccine passports, have accentuated feelings of isolation and detachment.   
And remember, Covid-19 arrived whilst we were all still squabbling over the wisdom behind the decision to leave the EU!  None of this disunity is helpful for our collective physical, mental, emotional or spiritual well-being.   
“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart”, says Jesus in Matthew 12:25. 
But to see a squad of footballers, whether they are in the starting line-up, or sitting on the subs bench, eagerly awaiting their chance to shine, all pulling together towards a common goal, reminds me of the great strength there is in teamwork.   
As leadership training guru John Maxwell observes, “Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone. Look below the surface and you will find that all seemingly solo acts are really team efforts.”   
Such wisdom has always held true. Way back in Old Testament times, King David, who was God’s man in his day to lead God’s people, writes in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity. For there, the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.” 

England manager Gareth Southgate during the England Training Session at St Georges Park on November

England manager Gareth Southgate during the England Training Session at St Georges Park on November 13 - PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK - Credit: Steve Bond/Pinnacle