Getting God into the game - sports chaplaincy

l-r: Fr Steven Billington, Rev David Chawner, Rev John Boyers,  James Parker.

l-r: Fr Steven Billington, Rev David Chawner, Rev John Boyers, James Parker.

SCORE (Sports Chaplaincy Offering Resources and Encouragement), the UK's specialist charity providing chaplaincy to the world of sport, gathered this week at Lilleshall, the National Sports Centre, for their annual conference.  Over seventy chaplains were present from across the sporting disciplines of football, rugby league and union, cricket, horseracing and athletics with delegates attending from across Scotland, England, Wales and mainland Europe.

With recent incidents such as disciplinary sanctions in rugby union, cases of suspected match-fixing in European football, and race-fixing in Formula One, the sporting world has rarely been in such need of robust guidance and a proven steer towards responsibility and integrity.

Speakers made presentations on relevant topics such as gambling addiction, the place of child protection in sport, and understanding the worldview of an eighteen-year old.  An update was also given on the progress being made for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Dave Chawner, SCORE's Rugby Union Chaplaincy Coordinator and Chaplain to London Wasps, said of the conference: "We recognize that the sporting world faces many challenges today.  Rarely has the need existed as it does at present for the Christian community to provide a strong presence and clear spiritual insight and values to those involved in the sporting world whether amateur or professional. Chaplaincy plays a unique role in achieving this, and SCORE takes seriously its responsibility to find, appoint, train and support chaplains, both ordained and lay, men and women, so that the greatest potential can be achieved with integrity by all those involved in sport, both individuals and teams alike."

John Boyers, Founder and Sports Chaplaincy Ambassador of SCORE and Chaplain to Manchester United, said: "With the 2010 Football World Cup almost upon us, the 2012 Olympics less than three years away, and the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 Rugby World Cup coming to the UK, the profile of sport will only increase across our nation. With this in mind, we are giving serious consideration to how we as the people of God can prepare to be servants of His love to all those with connections to sport, whether they are people of faith or not. We need more support from the churches, locally and nationally, from prayer to personnel."
James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 Games, who attended the conference for the first time, said: "The Catholic community has often led the way in providing chaplains to schools, hospitals, the armed services, and now even shopping centres. However, the sporting arena significantly lacks the presence of Catholic chaplains and yet it is one of the new marketplaces where the churched, the lapsed and unchurched alike all assemble to play, spectate and be re-created. It is important, therefore, that, as Catholics, we seek to play our part in providing a sound pastoral presence and relevant
spiritual care through chaplaincy to the many different pockets of the sporting world.

"It is clear from the excellent work that SCORE is doing among managers, trainers, players, athletes, support staff and fans that there are many opportunities being presented within each of these groups for Christians to witness to the gospel and to how the love of Jesus Christ can and does powerfully touch and impact every life.  As Catholics, we are keen to raise up new chaplains, both lay and ordained, men and women, to serve the world of sports. With this in mind, now is the time for us to consider how we as God's people can prepare to be servants of His love to those involved in sport, wherever they are at on their faith journey."

Fr Steven Billington, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Seacroft, Leeds is Catholic Chaplain to Leeds United FC and also attended the conference. He says of his part-time role in professional football: "For many people today sport is like a religion and a hook upon which people might seek belonging and meaning.  Sport and spirituality undoubtedly go hand in hand, at school level, at parish level, and even moreso at professional level.  Clubs, and society as a whole, often place increasing demands upon the lives of professional sportsmen and women. Yet they, like every human being, need solid, tangible and relevant support to enable them to be the best that God has made them to be. It is a great honour and privilege to be of service to those connected to my local team, and to all those involved in sport whatever their age, race, religion or position."

If you are interested in knowing more about chaplaincy in sport, or about becoming a Catholic chaplain within a sporting discipline, please contact for more details.

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