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If I had to choose between my wife and my putter... well, I’d miss her.

Gary Player

Living Mirrors

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Jonathan Howard, Glennville, Well Glory Books, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-692-07533-3

Living Mirrors (Our life’s reflection of Jesus through sports chaplaincy)

The author was a volunteer chaplain to the basketball team at an American college. He was later employed as a manager and continued his chaplaincy role alongside the manager’s role. The book tells his story from which he draws out principles about sports chaplaincy.

He writes of the role of a sports chaplain: “The top priority as a chaplain is to maintain our mirror to ensure that our life always reflects Jesus” – hence the title of the book.

The book includes some excellent advice and principles for sports chaplains – see later. The weakness of the book is that it often reads like a sermon. I found myself skipping page after page. The amount of the book’s content which is actually focused on how to be a sports chaplain is rather small.

The book clearly illustrates the differences between sports chaplaincy in the USA and in UK. The book refers to “the role sports chaplaincy plays in God’s plan to reach the world…Sports chaplaincy flows directly from the Great Commission. It is the pursuit of making disciples through the vehicle of sports…the job of chaplain is to guide people to Jesus…Chaplains who are making disciples will encourage new believers to be baptized…as chaplains, let us make certain we are clear on the purpose of baptism”. One feels that any sports chaplain in the UK with such an emphasis on evangelism would be asked to leave pretty quickly. The idea that some of the players may be Moslem etc – which would be normal in the UK – does not surface in the book.

The situation of a volunteer chaplain becoming a member of staff while trying simultaneously to be management and a chaplain was an interesting one. I would liked more on that. He refers to a situation where a player had a meltdown, adding “I was able to contribute insights [to the coach] I gained through my role as a chaplain”. This is precisely the kind of situation that would arise from trying to play both roles.

Examples of good advice given in the book:

Keep in mind the opportunity to chaplain is a privilege, not a right.

Service is the ground floor of the mission.

Our job as chaplain is to befriend the people on our team for the purpose of serving them.

Words of encouragement are a powerful tool in a chaplain’s toolbox.

Make a point to know the birthdays of the team members.

An effective chaplain is trustworthy.

A chaplain who is a good listener will never run out of openings to be involved in the lives of team members.

How we interact with the head coach of the team we serve will determine our level of access. It is important to never over-step your bounds when dealing with the team.

I made sure to have Coach Hoffman’s blessing before I did something new.

Never betray the trust of any member, associate, player or coach by sharing a team matter in the community.

We must fight the urge to discuss basketball as if we are part of the coaching staff.

I had served myself into a role.

Athletes need at a chaplain who communicates their self-worth because each is a child of God.

Athletes benefit from individuals who support them, who are excited about them as people. Athletes need cheerleaders and our role as chaplain can often be that - a cheerleader.

Athletes need to know we won’t share their confidential business with others.

The references to chapel services or team devotional times, which are common in US sports but largely unheard of in UK, raised issues for me. I was very unconvinced by the statement: “Another effective way to gain favor with the head coach during our devotional times is to tie things we hear the head coach say together with spiritual principles”.

In interesting insight into the life of an American college chaplain but overall a disappointing book.

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