Sports Chaplaincy: serving Welsh sport
Rev. Steve Jones, part-time minister at Riverside Baptist Church , Port Talbot also serves part-time with Sports Chaplaincy UK in Wales in a development role , with the support of mission grants from both The South Wales Baptist Association and The Baptist Union of Wales. Here he shares something of how his role, in partnership with local churches , involves envisioning and equipping pastorally gifted members of churches to serve as voluntary , lay sports chaplains in sports clubs in their local communities.
The Home Mission grants from the Association and the Union over the last few years have enabled me to contribute significantly to the development and growth of sports chaplaincy as a form of incarnational Christian mission here in Wales, under the umbrella of Sports Chaplaincy UK or SCUK for short. We now have over 75 voluntary sports chaplaincy roles in Wales and it could well be soon over 100 if we could fulfil all the requests we have. In
some areas and sports, demand is outstripping supply with clubs and national governing bodies of sports requesting chaplains faster than we can locate , encourage and equip church members ( both male and female ) to serve in these roles.
The SCUK team in Wales was thrilled in 2109 to place one male and one female chaplain within Welsh elite hockey to support the senior international players, coaches and staff where feedback has already been very positive. We have also placed a chaplain within Welsh elite cycling at the Newport Velodrome which has again been well received. Furthermore, four chaplains ( one from a Baptist church in the association) have been placed into Welsh elite gymnastics covering a wide age range with one chaplain specifically supporting the management staff. We supported all the major Run4Wales events with a tournament chaplaincy team which came about due to two tragic deaths in the 2018 Cardiff Half Marathon.
In the area of disability sport which is my particular area of interest and responsibility we have seen our footprint grow and increasing opportunities to show the love and compassion of Jesus into this wonderful, but sometimes challenging environment. At the end of October 2019 Sports Chaplaincy UK signed a partnership agreement with the governing body IMAS (International Mixed Ability Sports) which is at the forefront, both in the UK and internationally, of supporting and developing mixed ability versions of a range of different sports. Mixed ability sport is purposefully and intentionally inclusive whereby people with all sorts of physical or intellectual disabilities train and play alongside able-bodied players in modified versions of traditional sports such as rugby and football. This partnership has seen IMAS commending sports chaplaincy to its constituent and member clubs, whereby some of them have already connected with us to find a suitably trained volunteer chaplain to support players and their families. Amongst the first of these clubs to do so were the Cardiff Chiefs and the Port Talbot Panthers mixed ability teams. Former SWBA Regional Minister Rev. Tim Daniels has responded to a call to serve as volunteer chaplain to the Port Talbot Panthers club and is helping build links between this community club and Riverside Baptist Church in the town. There are plans and hopes for other clubs in Wales (Newtown, Colwyn Bay, Dragons AllStars and Llanelli Warriors) followed by other parts of the UK likewise to avail themselves of the services of a volunteer chaplain. Chaplaincy to mixed ability sports clubs is a recent development following on from chaplaincy to disability specific clubs which has also continued to grow. Two more chaplains started serving wheelchair rugby teams in Wales in 2019, and with wheelchair basketball hearing about the type of support available through Sports Chaplaincy UK it is expected that the next few years will see several chaplaincy appointments made in this growing and exciting wheelchair sport too. We continue to think broadly when it comes to the world of all ability sport. The aim is to invest time and build relationships with clubs and governing bodies from a wide variety of sports including para-powerlifting, para-taekwondo, para-cycling, visually impaired rugby and goalball (another Paralympic sport for players with sight loss).I myself have recently received some training to become a goalball coach.
In the months and years to come larger numbers of pastorally gifted individuals from within churches in South Wales are going to be needed to serve in the many opportunities that are opening in this area. Preparation for such service includes appropriate and effective training to equip volunteer chaplains to minister effectively amongst sports people with different disabilities. This forms another part of my role, the designing and delivery of such training modules to church members exploring serving as a potential chaplain. More widely we have continued to build chaplaincy numbers in both rugby and football and are getting many other organisations asking. Just before Christmas we had both Cricket Wales and the Welsh Surf Life Savers Association ask for chaplaincy across their 31 clubs to support 3000 members. Life savers to the life savers!
We are still waiting on confirmation from the Welsh Rugby Union to endorse chaplaincy at all their clubs, some 310 across Wales. With most clubs now having both men and women’s sides, there is a need for many, many more chaplains. Indeed, our greatest challenge remains finding suitable Christian people who can commit the time and energy required ( a minimum of 4 hours a week). If you are a member of an SWBA church reading this blog article and are wondering if this type of practical Christian service might be something the Lord may be calling you to explore, then we would love to here from you and your church leadership. Sports Chaplaincy UK exists to serve the churches in Wales by helping make connections between them and sports clubs in their communities. You may be thinking ‘Oh I could never serve as a football or rugby chaplain’, and perhaps you’re right. But how about as a volunteer chaplain to your local bowls club, leisure centre or wheelchair table-tennis club? The world of sport is broad and wide, just like the Kingdom of God. Might God be calling you to help build some bridges of support and love between the two? If so, my contact details are below; I’d be thrilled to hear from you and your church.