The sporting community in the United Kingdom consists of over 151,000 clubs totalling 25 million men, women and children. What a mission field!
Sports Chaplaincy UK works with churches and sporting clubs to meet the pastoral needs and spiritual care of all those taking part in professional and amateur sport. They have chaplains in every major football and rugby club across the United Kingdom and they have backing from sporting greats such as Sir Alex Ferguson.
Here is a brief review of what some chaplains are doing in Wales.
Dragons Wheelchair Rugby
Every Tuesday, the Dragons Wheelchair Rugby Team meet for training at Cwmbran Stadium. I join them as their sports chaplain.
I’m sure you want to ask me, ‘What does a sports chaplain do?’ Well, I have several roles which include learning the rules of the game and being referee, sometimes getting shouted at for decisions; running a ‘throwing and catching’ drill; being a listening ear and a support when needed; inviting people to think about God and Christ.
We recently had a trip to Bristol to play a friendly game with the Bristol Bears and it was good to help these guys get geared up for the match. It takes some work transporting the chairs and getting the players match ready.
It is a privilege to be part of this growing team. I have been able to get to know them and to help them. At Christmas time, I invited the team to come to the church’s carol services and they supported me as I had supported them. As I spoke about the perfect things we look for at Christmas, I used an illustration of the perfect drop goal – like the one the Dragons had scored the night before! It was a lead into Galatians 4:4 as we look for perfect things and need the perfect Christ.
Pray for those involved in sports chaplaincy, as we develop these relationships and have time to speak together about the things of God. This is an opportunity not only to help the team but more importantly to bring Christ into their lives.
Rev. Darran Dowey is the pastor of Ebenezer Church, Cwmbran.
Disability Sport Wales
I’ve been a sports chaplain to Disability Sport Wales since June 2013, mainly with the Elite Performance Athletes but also with the Academy, so anyone aged 10-40. Why such a huge age range? Well, some are born with their impairment, for others it comes through illness or an accident in their teens or adulthood. More recently, I’ve become chaplain to the Cardiff Chiefs, an all-ability rugby team, and to the Welsh Gymnastics staff.
Being a chaplain with Disability Sports Wales has given me opportunities to walk alongside people with disabilities and to be humbled by the fact that whatever life has thrown at them, these athletes do not give up! These sportspeople have a mountain to climb just to do life, and this creates a real vulnerability in them. To see them grab life with both hands and say, ‘I’m still here and alive,’ or, ‘Sport hasn’t changed my life, it’s given me a life,’is just amazing.
For me, being a chaplain is about demonstrating the love of Jesus in a very practical, non-threatening way. It is being prepared to be the hands and feet of Jesus and being servant hearted. Chaplains aim to be pastorally proactive and spiritually reactive.
I also love the opportunities I’ve had by being part of a team when being involved in major events. I’ve been to the European Paralympic Games 2014, World Para Athletics Championships 2017 in London, the Commonwealth Games and the World Wheelchair Basketball Games in 2018. The friendships that I’ve built up over the years and the opportunities I get to gently share my faith are awesome, and I wouldn’t swap them for the world.
One story that comes to mind is when I met some Irish athletes at the Celtic Cup Competition with Wales in 2013. At the end of the competition a wheelchair got thrown into a skip and a person ended up with it in the skip. At the European Games in 2014, I met that person and he told me the story behind it. I kept in touch and met him again at the London Games in 2017. We were having coffee when his wife phoned to tell him that her Nan had passed away. He was really upset. We hugged, cried and I prayed for him and his wife’s family. We talked and I was able to share my faith. I later got a message from his wife saying, ‘I’m so pleased you were with him when I broke the news.’ We still keep in touch!
Heather Lewis is a member at Highfields Church, Cardiff.
Torfaen Warriors Amateur Boxing Club
Boxing offers many benefits from positive personal and social development, to psychological and physical improvement. It is a wonderful sport of control, discipline, respect and community.
For the last five years, I have served Torfaen Warriors Amateur Boxing Club which was founded in 1993. Impressively, it has since had over 60 Welsh Champions, 5 British Champions, 12 British finalists and 26 Gold Medallists in world tournaments.
Coaches will know that if an athlete is going through personal problems or simply feels down, their performance will always suffer. As a sports chaplain, I am there to be an onsite support for the pastoral needs of the sportsperson and their wider family. They know that they can come and talk to me about anything at any time.
Boxing is an extreme sport that comes with great pressures. Competitors train hard, causing great physical and mental stress to themselves. They usually have to train at unsociable hours which affects their family lives. All sportspeople have to cope with the roller-coaster lifestyle of living with great victories and coping with failure. Off-season, or when retired, the highs and lows of competition can be replaced by unhelpful excessive behaviours that often lead to addiction in things such as gambling, alcohol and drugs, if not managed properly.
Sport is the idol of our age, yet sportsmen and women rarely have someone impartial to share their difficulties and pressures with. They have nobody independent to help them remain humble during their victories or positive when their performance is lacking. Neither is there anyone to advocate a clean living lifestyle outside of the season or following retirement from the sport. This is where a sports chaplain comes in!
Over the years, being a sports chaplain has allowed me to share the love of God into many homes. I have been asked to do several funerals, I have spoken at many events and prayed for boxers before and after bouts. We have travelled around the United Kingdom together as a club allowing me to build relationships with the athletes and gossip the gospel.
John Funnell is the pastor of Noddfa Baptist Chapel, Abersychan and a member of the Editorial Board
If you would like to find out more about Sports Chaplaincy please go to www.sportschaplaincy.org.uk/