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Issue No.117
13 November 2018

A Christian presence on every pitch

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Ben Hampshire outlines Sports Chaplaincy UK's goal for the sporting community

 

WELCOME TO A COMMUNITY CALLED SPORT. It comprises a vast array of smaller communities across the world. You may belong to one of them. It is a community like any other. You may know of some in your town or village. Whatever your level of sporting engagement, it is wide-ranging and ever-growing in numbers.

What do you think of when you see an athlete win a medal at the Olympics, or your favourite football team lifting the coveted cup? Success? Of course. Fulfilment: maybe? Care-free living? Rarely, if ever. We place sports stars on pedestals, but they are all human beings, just like you or me. Here in the UK we are getting to grips with conversations about mental health. Princes William and Harry have recently raised the profile of the topic. But it's the sporting community which is ahead of the game when it comes to tackling such issues head on.

Depression cut short England cricketer Marcus Tescothick's international career. He has shared his story. The suicide of formerWales football manager Gary Speed was widely reported. Sport has been forced into conversation and reform. This is precisely where Sports Chaplaincy UK steps in. Week in, week out, from amateur level right up to the elite echelons of sport there are human beings in need of support, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and a word of encouragement.

We are not there to enforce our beliefs, we are there to respond to the questions of life and to be there for people who are often treated as commodities by their sport and its fans.

When it comes to taking faith outside the walls of the Church, we can sometimes create towers in our minds that we must climb in order to reach people. Chaplaincy proves that the small things can really make a difference. When I walk into a club and ask people how they are doing, offer a genuine interest in their welfare and concern for what is happening in their world, I am conveying the heart of God which says, "You are valued for who you are, not for what you can do or achieve."

Chaplains are not there to preach sermons to players, but to help guide perspectives on life given the rigorous demands sport can make on mental well-being. Tony Adams, the former Arsenal captain and England centre-back once quipped, "Football was my drug." He shared how a broken leg drew him into alcoholism simply because his drug of choice had been stripped away.

Sports-people can display addictive personalities. If they are to succeed and reach the top level, they must adopt this all-in approach. The consequences can be fatal, which is why it is crucial that chaplains are available to bring hope and an alternative view of life. Sports Chaplaincy UK is there when injury hits or form dips.

There is more to sport than what you see on television or read in the newspapers. There are some 151,000 registered sports clubs in the UK. It is a community totalling millions of people. Nor does it stop on the field. Sports chaplains play a pivotal role behind the scenes, with backroom staff, office workers, cleaners, fans and more.

Show me a bigger community in our society than the community called sport. As the Church, we have a responsibility not to force people into a decision for one or the other simply because we tend to meet at similar or overlapping times. We are called to be a loving presence to communicate the heart of God.

If we can impact sport then we can impact our wider community and our country as a whole. As we move into our 26th year, Sports Chaplaincy UK has a vision to see a chaplain in every professional and amateur sports club across the nation.

So what does a sports chaplain look like? The term most likely throws up some stereotypical images. As a former bouncer, in excess of six foot in height and walking around without a dog-collar I probably break the mould.

With the correct training and a passion for the sporting community, anyone with a love for God and people can become a sports chaplain. At Sports Chaplaincy UK, we run training courses and seminars to equip and inspire current and future chaplains, all centred around our key values: presence, excellence, confidentiality and humility.

 

Do you think you could help us fulfil our God-given dream to see a chaplain present in every sporting community? Head to our website to register your interest, attend an induction day and interview. You can add another stroke of light to the canvas of grace that God is painting through the community called sport.

w: www.sportschaplaincy.org.uk