London (CNSNews.com) - Devout English Anglicans won't have to choose between God and sports this weekend - the Archbishop of Canterbury has given special permission for clergy to shift services around England's World Cup opening game on Sunday.
Because of the time difference between Europe and the World Cup host nations of Japan and South Korea, most of the games will be broadcast live on British television in the early or mid-morning.
Sunday's England vs. Sweden matchup kicks off at 10:30 a.m. British time - in the middle of prime churchgoing hours.
While insisting that "worship comes first," Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said: "This comes around only every four years so we can afford to be flexible."
Carey, who is rumored to be a fan of Arsenal, London's top soccer team, stopped short of saying that he would pray for the English football team, emphasizing that his church is a worldwide congregation.
While the Archbishop has given his clergy permission to shift their schedules, he himself won't be able to enjoy the game, as he'll be presiding over a special ceremony to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. The main celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the queen's reign will start this weekend and continue into next week.
Reports from around the country indicate that many clergy are incorporating soccer themes into their sermons and some vicars are planning to put big-screen televisions in church halls and grounds.
Rev. John Hartley of the Eccleshill Church in the northern England city of Bradford said that he would be shifting his service to 3 p.m. local time on Sunday.
Hartley will also be delivering a sermon entitled "Make Jesus the center forward (a key soccer position) of your life."
"I will ask the congregation to consider ourselves as a football (soccer) team and touch on the advantages of inviting Jesus to join the team," he said by phone Friday.
The vicar has invited worshippers to come to church in soccer uniforms and to bring flags, but Hartley says he only takes a "passing interest" in the game.
"We have some keen football supporters in our congregation, as well as leading members of political parties, and we want to make a special effort to give God thanks for our national life and our sport," he said.
Hartley has even written a soccer hymn to the tune of "Match of the Day," Britain's leading sports highlights show.
It includes the lines: "Before I met the saviour Jesus, my life was full of holes / I couldn't do the good I wanted, I couldn't score my goals."
The early morning games have also created dilemmas for other groups. Pub owners were forced to apply to local authorities for permission to open early to show the games.
The early kickoffs also prompted the British government to start a radio ad campaign to warn people against drinking during the matches then driving to work.
The World Cup, one of the world's most popular sporting events, began Friday when Senegal upset defending champions France, 1-0. Opening round-robin games will be followed by playoffs and the winner will be crowned on June 30.
The United States, 300-1 longshots according to British bookmakers William Hill, will play Poland, Portugal and hosts South Korea in the first round. Favorites to win the tournament include France, Argentina, Italy and Brazil.
E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.
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