Sports chaplaincy celebration - and challenge
Churches have been urged to explore the huge mission fields on their doorstep - sports clubs and gyms
The call comes from the charity Sports Chaplaincy UK, which says there are 151,000 sports chaplaincy opportunities across the country, and an openness as local sports clubs begin to understand the value of chaplaincy.
The charity held a parliamentary reception on Thursday (7 September) to mark its 25th anniversary and share its vision. It was originally called SCORE and pioneered by Baptist minister John Boyers.
To date the charity has trained around 450 chaplains, who provide spiritual and pastoral care in a range of sports. But while it has a high profile in elite sports, notably football (John became the chaplain at Manchester United), rugby union and rugby league, it remains little known in the Christian community.
With denominations, ecumenical organisations and media invited, the anniversary reception was an opportunity for the charity to celebrate what has gone before, and share its vision of a chaplain in every sports club.
‘A chaplain is simply an expression of God’s love and compassion,’ explained chief executive Warren Evans.
‘And I believe God has given us a dream – to see an expression of his love and compassion in every community called sport.’
He talked about the huge numbers involved in sport and gyms. There are 151,000 sports clubs, and while numbers vary, each would typically have around 80 adults and 90 children, which equates to around 25 million people. In addition, the UK has nearly 7000 gyms.
While much sporting activity takes place on a Sunday morning, Warren (pictured) and the Sports Chaplaincy team believe churches need to be flexible to reach it.
‘I don’t believe we should be rejecting a community six times our own because it meets at the same time as us.
‘Let’s be creative – hold services two hours later, do a barbecue once a year, pray for the clubs – come up with something in your context.’
He encouraged Christians to see the community of sport as God sees it. While outwardly they may look healthy and wealthy, all are human being with spiritual needs.
‘Sport is a mission field. The church should be there. Let’s not waste this opportunity.’
The charity seeks to find a club or sporting organisation ready to embrace sports chaplaincy, and identify the right person for the role. It has an initial goal of training 1,000 new chaplains as it sets about its dream of seeing a chaplain in 'every community called sport'.
Matt Baker, chaplain at Charlton and Pastoral Support Director in English Football, said clubs were becoming aware of the value of chaplaincy. He spoke of being invited by a rugby club to be its chaplain, as the club recognized there were many in its ranks with pastoral issues. There was also mention of another club with an atheist in charge who nevertheless introduced chaplaincy. ‘Though she wasn’t a believer, she could see the value it brought.’
The reception was hosted by Stephen Timms MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society. He said sports chaplaincy was a ‘fantastic example’ of what the group seeks to champion, and applauded the ambition of seeking sports chaplains around the country.
The reception also heard from former footballers Paul Elliott CBE MBE and Linvoy Primus MBE. Paul, whose own career was ended by injury when he was 28, spoke of the importance of having someone who is interested in the whole person, not simply from a playing point of view.
Linvoy, who played in the Premier League with Portsmouth and came to faith during his time on the south coast, said his family chose sport over church on a Sunday morning. ‘My children were lonely in church,’ he said. ‘All their friends were playing sport. It was a difficult decision, but we chose sport.
‘But as I was standing there with other parents, I thought why can’t we have someone here? I want to let Christians know we don’t have to be in the building.’
For more about Sports Chaplaincy UK, visit: sportschaplaincy.org.uk/
This page explains how to become a chaplain, and the support the charity gives: https://sportschaplaincy.org.uk/become-a-chaplain/
Warren and the team are available for training days. Make contact here: sportschaplaincy.org.uk/contact/
Baptist minister the Revd David Chawner is the Sports Chaplaincy UK’s chair of trustees.