I love Tuesdays. It’s a day when I take time out from my day job in church-world and enter the dark, dynamic and mysterious world of professional sport…and each time I come back freshly energised and envisioned for life, family and…oh yes…church.
You see I’ve had the privilege for the past nine years to be Club Chaplain to the mighty Cherries, AFC Bournemouth, who over that period of time have moved from perennial struggler’s in League One and Two, flirting with relegation and administration to a place at the top table of English football…the Premier League.
Tuesday starts early these days. Gone are the days of pro footballers and management meandering in by 10 o’clock and home by 2…the arrival of sports scientists, analysts, physios, masseurs, nutritionists and psychologists has meant the average player now almost does a full days work! Now it must be said that they get to enjoy their misery in comfort these days but they are young men with short careers who actually need to discover God’s purpose for their life, as much as the hard-working supporter on the terraces who screams at them every home game.
That’s where the Club Chaplain comes in. Over 75 of the 92 football league clubs have one inhabiting other sports too such as Rugby Union and League, Cricket, Horse Racing and Motorsports. Nearly all of them are local ministers who set aside a few unpaid hours each week and some time at home games to be Jesus in the midst of the fray. When asked what my role is I tell people I’m a sort of ‘pastoral and spiritual safety net’ for players, staff, supporters – a Vicar to the club!
So, back to Tuesdays. Each time I go I ask God for him to enable my PRESENCE to be a catalyst for Jesus as I “loiter”. He’s always got there before me. Often I feel like a lemon on the edge of the field of play but today is different. As I park my Skoda Fabia at 7am next to a top of the range Aston Martin I stroll in for a pre-arranged weekly session with a senior coaching staff member on a “leadership principle” followed by a short bible reading and prayer. This goes superbly and is followed by about an hour of chat and banter with staff and players over breakfast.
During this time two staff I’ve chatted to for the past 2 years confirm they’ll be at our church’s Alpha Course tomorrow night. Result. It’s been a couple of years since one of the lad’s and his wife did Alpha and became Christians so this is fantastic ( metaphorically punch the air!). It’s an example of my second Chaplaincy principle…. You need to be PRESENT so you can see where the Spirit is working but you have to PERSEVERE PRAYERFULLY when nothing seems to be happening. I’ve realised more and more that if I’m consistent and available, God’s prepared the ground for encounter with Him. Those freezing cold monthly early morning Saturday morning prayer times, with a couple of supporters, has been worth it after all.
I move on to the physio’s room. This is one of my key places I visit every week. It’s great ground…the players can’t escape from you (!) and they are desperate to get fit so are happily open to prayer (even from the ‘Rev’). I chat to one of the African Christian lads who says how he prefers his French-speaking church in London to the churches down here in Bournemouth and we arrange when our bible study will meet in early November…I ask how one of our recent signings (not a Christian) is doing…he’s pretty low…his ankle is crocked and he’s frustrated. Short prayer, brief encouragement from the bible and then out to watch some training. You can be PRESENT, keep PERSEVERING but at some point you have to say something sometime (PROCLAMATION).
I wander round to the other side of the stadium handing out chocolates to all and sundry – groundsman, maintenance, club shop, ticket office, Safeguarding rep, finance department, General Manager, marketing and hospitality – a smile, some encouragement and more banter. This is the life…to bring real life that satisfies into the short-term bubble of football.
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.
I love that Paul – loved sport but he loved his Saviour more and as he became PRESENT and PERSEVERED he then PROCLAIMED and some were won for Christ.
It’s 12 o’clock on a Tuesday and Sunday’s coming. Fantastic!