On Saturday afternoons in fall, I can be found wearing my clerical collar and tartan kilt. For most Alma College football games and practices, I can be found walking the sidelines proudly wearing the Alma College highland kit while offering my support to the student-athletes in a ministry of presence.
Chaplaincy is a unique form of ministry that recognizes a call to the organization regardless of the individuals’ religious or spiritual affiliation. As the admissions reps at Alma like to joke, I am the chaplain to everyone whether they want me or not. When it comes to sports at Alma, I am careful to listen and study the culture of each team, rather than walking in and assuming what they need, want or expect from a chaplain. I’m called to demonstrate Christ’s love and grace through my support, tears, listening ear and compassionate presence.
I recently led a workshop in Mackinac Presbytery on the potential for congregational vitality in the post-pandemic world. Questions were asked about how to be the church in a relevant way as their communities begin to open. My guidance was to see themselves as a chaplaincy to their community.
The church was never meant to be a static foundation. Rather, it is intended to be a movement that enters into the world and shares the gospel of Jesus Christ through the love and hope we demonstrate through the way we care for one another. The easy recommendation I offered to these congregations was to be present where the community was engaged. Identify passions, inclinations and gifts of your neighbors and be present to celebrate them. It is a powerful witness when 25 members of a congregation will show up for a high school girls basketball game and cheer on the local team — not because their child or grandchild is on the team, but because the team is part of their community. I believe athletic chaplaincy is an easy road for many congregations to consider as we seek to be caregivers to our community. Demonstrate what Christ did for his neighbors by going to them and asking questions about what they enjoy and share how excited you are to support them in their efforts.
I never pretend to be an athlete. However, walking into an arena and letting the students know that you are there to support and get to know them is an outstanding opportunity to show hospitality and care. While I would like to think the students appreciate me as their chaplain because of my outstanding sermons and ability to lead a small group, I am convinced they are more receptive and appreciative because of my consistent presence.
Be that presence in your community. It will not take long for the community to realize that your church shows up without an agenda and is consistently supportive.