Fishing Lines: Bland faith as devotees spread the gospel

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The Independent Online
THE world's most formidable fishing team is being assembled by an Essex landscape gardener. Adrian Bland modestly says that he is not expecting miracles. But FOCAS will have one huge advantage over everyone else. They have God on their side.

Encouraged by the success of a similar organisation in the United States, Bland has set up the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society. 'It is absolutely enormous over there. They have holiday schemes, conferences, teach-ins and television coverage. I hope we can be just as successful,' he says.

A born-again Christian, Bland says the aim is to promote and develop spiritual growth - 'and we are trying to do this through the sport of angling'. He adds: 'Fish, rivers and lakes are all part of God's creation, and fishing is a very big part of the

Bible. Four of Jesus's disciples were fishermen, and he used fishermen to spread the word. We are doing the same. A lot of people go fishing because they are lonely. They need someone to talk to. If there is someone like us around, we can help.'

He even believes that FOCAS could help England to win the World Angling Championships in Nottingham this year. He has been in touch with the team manager, Dick Clegg, to offer support. 'Everyone will be expecting England to win and both the manager and the team will be under huge pressure. We can help by spending some time with them.

'Dick showed interest and was quite keen, but it hasn't gone beyond that at the moment. He was more jovial than I expected about the idea, but it was very much 'Don't call us. We'll call you.' We are preparing some information to send him and we hope to have a stand at the world championships anyway.'

Bland is keen to scupper the idea that FOCAS is a nutty religious cult. 'All the leading churches have approved our statement of faith, and there is an organisation called Christians in Sport, that has people like Kriss Akabusi and Bernhard Langer as members.' He is looking for a suitable fishing celebrity to promote the group's work.

Although FOCAS has only been running for a couple of months, Bland has been pleased by the response. 'One or two ministers have approached us; we have someone who will probably be picked for the Scottish team, and local boat skippers who are churchmen have offered their help. We could run our own fishing parties, and encourage members to bring a neighbour.' The group has printed pamphlets showing their statement of faith and other literature to be given out on the bankside.

One problem that the group may face is that anglers traditionally go fishing on Sundays. 'I'll admit that I have found this difficult,' Bland confesses. 'I don't go fishing on Sundays because it is the Lord's Day, but we don't have a strict attitude. It has to be between God and the angler's conscience.'

Despite the furore within the church at present over women priests, Bland emphasises that FOCAS has no objection to fisherwomen. 'One of our key aims is to promote family values. We want anglers to take their families with them. A lot of problems stem from individuals spending too much time apart.' However, he adds: 'My wife is totally anti-fishing.'

Perhaps the most interesting development will be setting up a side to take part in the national championships. Bland has already recruited several good anglers, though of course their main asset will not appear on any team sheet. An ability to walk on water would be invaluable to reach those awkward tree-lined spots, as well as proving very useful for retrieving lost spinners and floats. And the scales are sure to move in mysterious weighs.

More information on FOCAS from Adrian Bland at 56 Bromley Road, Colchester, Essex.