Sports Chaplaincy

8 Mar

This is the first in a series of reflections on theses with which I have been involved —generally as a supervisor of someone’s research.
I want to give some exposure to the work developed here and reflect a little on its significance.

Rev Grant Stewart is a local church pastor, who has also been a keen sportsman himself, and also a chaplain to various sporting teams.
His major involvement at present is as chaplain to the Rugby League club called Melbourne Storm.

Grant has also undertaken a Mastor of Ministry research project, reflecting upon a number of the issues raised through this ministry.
He compares his experience as a local church pastor and his role as chaplain in the highly profession and very pressured world of a football club, and raises a lot of really interesting issues.

It’s a fine piece of work. Grant began by telling how he got into sports chaplaincy and then posed a series of questions about how chaplaincy can be seen within the professional sporting arena.
Is the chaplain there basically as an agent of the corporation which owns the club and contracts the players, to enable them to perform better and thus win games and increase sponsorship (and profits)?

Grant interviewed players, coaches and also a number of chaplians, across a range of clubs and also codes of football. I am not able to repeat his results or findings here, but will rather comment on several questions which arose for me during our discussions of his work.

One interesting question concerns the purpose of chaplaincy.  From a purely ‘managerial’ point of view,  the chaplain is there to solve porblems and keep the players happy and performing well. The players, on the other hand, (and here I am generalizing) want to be more than one-dimensional people. They want to persons, not just players. The chaplain has a role in encouraging and enhancing their growth, relationships and sense of self-worth, beyond sport as well as within it. This suggests a tension within the role: who is calling the tune? And how does ‘the rev’ do more than just keep the players happy?

Another interesting issue is the way we might see sport, theologically. Here so many interesting issues arise: sport as play invites us to think about the joy of activities that are not ultimately functional. So much Christian spirituality seems not to value things unless they are instrumental, useful … Sport has its place within God’s creation, in part as sheer enjoyment.  Then there are questions about competitiveness, and the ethics of wanting to win and, thus, defeat the others.

Another interesting question concerns the prophetic role of the chaplain. For some, chaplaincy is mostly about evangelism. For some, it is about a very individualistic idea of pastoral care, and perhaps also seeking to bring players to a personal faith experience. These are good things. But another thing has to do with the huge amounts of money and the life-style induced by the unreal world of the elite sporting club,  and the ‘god-like’ status attributed to players by the media. Here the chaplain has a role to challenge these values and to call the players and officials back to the reality of our common humanity.  These people have a great privilege, but also a responsibility, as role models and through their capacity to help others. It is great to see many sporting ‘stars’ joining volunteer work, on soup kitchens, in helping disadvantage kids in schools and so forth. A number of prominent chaplains have played a prophetic significant role in bringing some of these things about.

This is a fascinating area of ministry. There needs to be more of it. Congratulations to Grant Stewart for getting into it and thanks for enabling me to learn about some of these issues.

One thought on “Sports Chaplaincy

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