Sports Chaplaincy: Where Faith and Football Collide

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29 Nov, 2022

The world of sports can be a complex, competitive place and we could be pushed to wonder just where and how God fits in. Sports Chaplaincy is one such way, that provides a unique opportunity to come alongside people in a very specific context, and Don Currie shares with us some brilliant insight into what happens when faith and football collide…

“So, what does a sports chaplain actually do, then? Well, that’s a great question and one I’m asked from time to time. Sports chaplains are there to offer pastoral and spiritual care to those in the world of sport, whatever the sport and at whatever level – professional, semi-professional or amateur. Sports chaplains are there by permission, to those of faith or no faith, for the holistic well-being of all involved in the community of sport.

I’m chaplain to Saltcoats Victoria FC and have been for 8 years. Saltcoats Vics are a smaller semi-professional football team in the Third Division of the West of Scotland Football League. Having started out as club chaplain, I’ve been involved for some time as a committee member and have also served as club secretary for some time now. 

It’s the role of a sports chaplain to be servant-hearted, striving to be pastorally proactive and spiritually reactive. A sports chaplain aims to serve all people in the sporting world irrespective of position, beliefs or lifestyle.

Being pastorally proactive and spiritually reactive is a description of our role that I find helpful. It deserves a wee bit of explanation. As chaplains we are expected to take a positively proactive approach with regard to the wellbeing of all at the club. Questions such as, “How’s your recovery from injury doing?”; or, “How’s your Mum doing?” – a question asked discreetly when a player has told me their Mum is unwell.

“How are you getting on?” – again a question asked discreetly when there’s been a family bereavement for a player. Being spiritually reactive means that we’ll have a spiritual conversation if, for example, a player with a family bereavement might ask me, “So, how do you cope with the loss of a family member?” If asked such a question directly, I can only answer that by saying that my personal faith in God, my personal family and my church family are very important to me if I’m struggling with something.

There are five key values which Sports Chaplains UK expect chaplains to uphold:

Presence – is all about being there, being a difference – Incarnational: “The word became flesh dwelling among us.” “Let your light shine”.
Excellence – in everything we say and do – we serve an excellent God, Servanthood: “not looking to your own interests, but the interests of others.”

Relationship – compassion – Identification: “all things to all people” “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

Confidentially– being trusted and a safe port of call

Humility – It’s all about Jesus, not our ego and at times it can be humiliating.

There some minimum standards such as a commitment to prayer, pastoral gift, accountable, adhere to safeguarding, consistent attendance at sporting organisation outside of ‘event / match’, commitment to ongoing development, and all this helps demonstrates credibility which is fundamental for a sports chaplain.

As sports chaplains we are well trained on a wide range of matters as we begin our journey as chaplains. There is then ongoing training events covering such as gambling addiction and other addiction issues, mental health awareness, bereavement support and more.

Over the years, I’ve had meaningful interactions with fans, players, management team and committee members alike. I’ve been involved with such as: bereavement issues — e.g., being involved with a funeral service or a scattering of ashes for a lifelong fan or simply being a listening ear to hear someone’s story when a loved one has passed away. I’ve taken the wedding of a player. I’ve engaged with folks variously with such as addiction issues, relationship issues, personal matters, mental wellbeing, financial concerns, and so the list could go on. I’ve also been privileged to have faith based conversations on a number of occasions.  

As well as being involved as a sports chaplain locally. I now also have a part-time role with the Global Sports Chaplaincy Association (GSCA). This has taken me to meetings in Germany and also to Zoom calls at 07.00 in the morning or starting a midnight — because we have chaplains involved from Australia & New Zealand, mainland Europe, the UK and North America. So, at the same meeting, someone is just about to go to bed when someone else has just risen at the start of the day.

 

Life as a sports chaplain can be challenging but it’s seldom dull and, we hope, very worthwhile.

 

Rev Don Currie, Senior Pastor, South Beach Baptist Church. Club Chaplain, Saltcoats Victoria FC.

 

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