"Football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that."
Sports Chaplaincy: ChaplaincyTrends, issues and debates’
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Edited by Andrew Parker, Nick J.Watson and John B. White, London, Routledge, 2016. ISBN: 9781472414038The book states that it has main aims: “(1) to build upon and extend the personalized accounts of sports chaplaincy which already exist; (2) to further the establishment of a body of scholarly literature in this, as yet, under-researched and under-reported field; and (3) to uncover more fully what the role of the sports chaplain looks like within specific geographical and cultural contexts”. The book is structured in three parts, international perspectives, conceptualising sports chaplaincy and sports chaplaincy: practice and praxis.
It includes a wide range of interpretations of chaplaincy across the world. The reviewer was amused that Mark Nesti’s caricature of the chaplain as a “whimsical figure who is hoping to find converts, someone who despite the low key and friendly demeanour is really engaged in…[a] programme of religious evangelisation” seemed very similar the model that Greg Linville was advocating in his chapter on chaplaincy in USA!
The book raises a number of important issues including:
• The danger of compassion fatigue;
• The conflict between gospel values and the values of sport;
• The need to help sportspeople understand that their identity should not be linked to their sports performance.
The issue of whether chaplains should concentrate on ministering to athletes or if they have a responsibility to exercise a prophetic ministry is not new. In this book John White argues for the need of a prophetic chaplaincy voice showing how “Christ’s death publicly exposes and condemns all of their sporting world’s abuses of God’s intention for the human body” . While recognizing that chaplains are in post by invitation, White argues that “for the sake of the whole gospel” it is essential for chaplains to critique the social and moral evils that they encounter.
Another important topic is the relationship between chaplains and sports psychologists. Nesti argues strongly for greater co-operation between the two, suggesting that such a partnership could show that a club is interested in meeting the needs of their players beyond just helping them to perform well. Richard Gamble etc advocate chaplains being integrated into the formal structures of clubs. The counter-argument is, however, that giving them this status takes away the very independent role which enables them to minister to “staff” and “management” equally.
The best chapters in the book by some distance are Ashley Null and John White’s in the section “conceptualising sports chaplaincy” in which they apply Bible theology to chaplaincy on a way which has rarely been done.
This is an excellent book which will inform and stimulate anyone with an interest in sports chaplain.
[The reviewer must declare an interest in that I contributed a chapter to the book].