Friday, February 27, 2015

Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity

One of the four major initiatives undertaken by the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the International Sports Coalition is to further the relationships between men and women who work in Academia and those who serve as Sports Chaplaincy practitioners. For as long as I can remember, there has been a rather wide gulf between the two. Some of our friends and colleagues in the United Kingdom are conducting a tremendous event in August of 2016 which stands to bridge the divide quite effectively. Details on the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity are below. Please consider attending and certainly watch for further details and results. Thanks.

Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity
24–28 August 2016

In light of the dramatic increase in academic research activity and practical initiatives on the topic of sports and Christianity over the last decade, the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at York St John University, in collaboration with the Bible Society, will host this event. 

About the conference


The aims of the IGCSC are to: 

· Encourage global collaboration between academics, practitioners, politicians, administrators and athletes 

· Produce quality academic and practitioner publications that have societal impact 

· Through intentional mentoring and collaboration, develop individuals in their sphere of influence 

· Affect a ‘culture shift’ in modern sport through the sharing of ideas and practices and a ‘coming together’ of individuals from across the academic disciplines and all streams and denominations of Christianity, culminating in an inclusive and ecumenical event. 


The IGCSC will be held over four-and-a-half-days and will comprise: a gala dinner, keynote lectures, parallel sessions, a panel discussion led by the Bible Society, a three-hour seminar for each of the eleven ‘thematic strands’, a ‘student forum’, and a networking event, in which representatives from practitioner organisations, research centres and publishers will be able to share information. A sport-themed service will also be held in York Minster, one of Europe's finest cathedrals. 

One of the keynote presentations (Prof Shirl J. Hoffman) will focus on the recently published ‘Declaration for Sport and Christian Life’, which is a benchmark document for the field of sport and Christianity. 

To ensure the continued development and long-term sustainability of the field, an international organising committee has been established to devise and operationalize a long-term strategic plan to ensure similar events take place every three years (in appropriate institutions around the world). The importance and timeliness of the IGCSC, 2016, has been ‘endorsed’ by a wide variety of individuals. 

Thematic Strands

The IGCSC will comprise eleven ‘thematic strands’, which collectively address existing and emerging topics in the broad area of sport and Christianity. During the congress there will be a three-hour interactive seminar on each thematic strand which will be facilitated by a small group of academics and / or practitioners who are recognised for excellence in their respective fields (click on thematic strand titles below for biographies of Strand Chairperson and Co-Leaders). 

A number of academic and practitioner publications will emerge from these thematic strands, as detailed below. 

Abstracts submitted for consideration for oral presentations (parallel sessions) to be scheduled through the four days of the congress, can focus on the thematic strands, or may address any topic within the broad field of sports and Christianity. 

The thematic strands are as follows: 

· Sports, Peace and Religion (with a focus, but not exclusively, on the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games) 

Monday, February 23, 2015

This is a tremendous season in the development of Sports Chaplaincy around the globe. We, the Sports Chaplaincy Table of the International Sports Coalition, have been working with our partners throughout the world on a basic, introductory course of training for sports chaplains. We have invested innumerable hours, lots of money, energy, airplane tickets, nights in hotels away from family, and more in the process.

We now have something to show you. Please log onto to access the training site.

This training site was created with these values in mind:
·        To set a global standard for comprehensive, but introductory sports chaplaincy training.
·        To make this an open source with no one ministry’s name or logo to indicate ownership.
·        We assume second language English speakers and readers.
·        We assume slow Internet speed.

We are greatly indebted to a great number of collaborators, too great a number to list here. Our team included people from Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Germany, USA, Sweden, England, and Canada. Churches, sports ministries, sports chaplaincy ministries, and individuals all contributed to the project, through writing, financing, consultation, via video, website development, and other ways. We are thankful to each and all.

We hope you will take a look at the site, that you will use it with those you encounter who are investigating service as a sports chaplain, and that you may even use it as a part of your sports chaplaincy training. If your ministry or agency would like to be included in our list of referrals, please send me information and we would love to include you.

Thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to this remarkable development. If there had been something like this twenty years ago when I began to serve as a sports chaplain, I would have made far fewer mistakes and would have been more effective much earlier in my service. We pray this site catalyzes the development of this ministry around the world.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


A few weeks ago I received a call from a friend who works with collegiate ministries across the USA. He asked me to write an article about how we have made disciples among college student-athletes across these years. The article as it appears at is below. I hope it is of value to you.


Collegiate ministry leaders are often a little puzzled when they encounter student-athletes. They expect them to be just like other college students, but their lives in sport often present obstacles to their involvement in ministry events that are a great fit for the general population.

I have been serving student-athletes at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale for over twenty years. In that time, I have learned a lot about effectively engaging, serving, building relationships, and nurturing the faith of those in the sports community. I’d like to share six keys that I’ve found to discipling student-athletes:

1. Respect their time constraints. Being a student-athlete is like going to school full-time and working a full-time job, at the same time. They have practice six days a week, they often spend extra hours in voluntary work on the mental part of the game, they have to study just like any student, and they want to have a social life like any other student. Add in on-season travel, injury rehabilitation, off-season workouts, and mandatory community service projects and their lives are crowded and complex. The ministry point here is to respect the value of their free time. When we do events, I limit them to one hour. If they want to hang around longer, good, but if they need to get in and out, they are free. Be sure to ask lots of questions about their schedules and design your activities for them to fit their needs.

2. Embrace their sport’s culture. Too often, we in the Church tolerate sport culture and try to relate to student-athletes while firmly entrenched in our church culture. Sports people are not against Church culture, they just don’t understand it. They have lived in and are deeply immersed in their particular sport’s culture. Too many of my sport chaplain colleagues endure the culture of sport just to get to their opportunity to speak. Student-athletes and coaches can sense that distance and are hesitant to respond to those of such an attitude. The way to break through this issue is to heartily embrace the sport culture, warts and all, and thereby communicate unconditional acceptance to those who live therein. Beware the temptation to simply add sports clichés to your vocabulary. Poorly applied sports language raises the red flags of “phony,” “jock sniffer,” and “wannabe.” As we learn to speak their language, to fit into their schedules, and to understand their values, we are more able to serve and to speak effectively.

3. Communicate directly. Occasionally I will invite a local pastor to address our team in a pregame chapel. I give them a time frame to fit, a general idea of theme or topic, answer their questions, and then turn them loose. That usually goes fairly well, but occasionally it does not. The errors are usually a matter of not fitting sport culture or a clumsy importation of church culture into the sport setting. Sport is a culture of direct language. Time is always at a premium. Communication is always straight forward. There is no room for dropping hints, for being subtle, or for being overly artful in one’s speech. There is no need for elaborate introductions, for jokes, or for allegory. Speak directly with student-athletes. Get to the point. Ask direct questions. They will not take offense or find you pushy.

4. Demonstrate genuine interest in them, not just in the results of their competitions. For far too long the Church has been pleased to “use” sportspeople for their ministry ends and to trade on their celebrity status for institutional gain. Such a utilitarian attitude leads many student-athletes to keep the Church at arm’s length. When our first interaction with a student-athlete is to ask about the results of their most recent contest, their defenses go up immediately, especially if the results were less than good. To only ask about results or prospects for upcoming games is to diminish them as people. Ask questions about family, about school, about practice and teammates, or anything related to the process of being a college student-athlete. This demonstrates an understanding that he or she is more than an animal in a uniform. Love the student-athlete, not his or her celebrity.

5. Love extravagantly. People of sport are often less than lovable. Much of the life of a student-athlete is less than lovely. It often smells bad and sounds coarse. It requires extravagant love. It is not safe or convenient, and certainly is not normal. It is, however, very rewarding. When one invests deeply, loves big, and pays the price to care for student-athletes, they respond in faith with the same passion they bring to sport. It is dynamic and worth every moment.

6. Serve selflessly. Whereas student-athletes grow accustomed to people asking them to do things, we must be the ones to serve them with no thought of receiving anything in return. They find this both refreshing and endearing. This builds trust. This opens hearts. To perform the most menial tasks with and for them is a profound relationship builder. Serve without fanfare. Don’t take selfies with them and post it on line. Don’t ask for autographs, free tickets, or sideline privileges. That is the essence of selfishness and they find it repulsive. Give yourself away in helping them to life and you will find a loyal friend and an inquisitive heart.

Student-athletes are unique in a number of ways, but they are similar to others in that they are all positioned on a launching pad. They are all going somewhere and it only takes a persistent nudge from a loving, wise leader to eternally influence the trajectory of their lives. I would challenge you to lovingly, respectfully, and directly nudge the hearts of student-athletes on your campus toward a commitment to Christ and a lifetime of being transformed by His Spirit.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sport Chaplain serving faithfully in the NFL

Love in the Time of Deflategate
The supposedly soulless Patriots swear a pastor's embrace has powered their success
Originally Published: January 30, 2015
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine
Patriots' Chaplain Building Character
ON THE NIGHT of Dec. 1, 2012, a man named Jack Easterby -- a lanky and balding former college basketball player and golfer with a thick Southern accent and a demeanor so relentlessly positive that it approaches goofy -- stood before the Kansas City Chiefs and tried to make sense of death. Not just death: a murder-suicide.
That morning, shortly after killing his girlfriend with 10 shots, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher arrived at the team parking lot with a handgun. He was distraught, crazed, panicked. A few team officials surrounded him, pleading with him to surrender his weapon and to not do any more damage. From down the road a police siren grew louder. Belcher decided it was over. "You know that I've been having some major problems at home and with my girlfriend," he said. "I have hurt my girl already, and I can't go back now." Belcher knelt behind his car, made the sign of a cross on his chest and shot himself in the head.
Easterby, the Chiefs' chaplain, was in the team building preparing a Saturday service when the gun went off. Just hours later, players and coaches were waiting for consoling words from a man who, if the team hadn't drafted punter Ryan Succop out of South Carolina with the very last pick in 2009, they never would have known. Easterby had been the chaplain at South Carolina. Early in his second season, Succop asked Easterby to lead Bible study for the Chiefs, and Easterby demonstrated such an innate ability to connect with players -- listening rather than talking, investing more in their lives than their games, assigning homework rather than uttering empty maxims -- that Chiefs GM Scott Pioli came to personally pay for his flights from Columbia, South Carolina, to Kansas City.
That night, while players wondered what they could have done to prevent tragedy, Easterby felt prepared for his talk as if he had been born for it. "There is hope beyond these moments," he began. "There's something bigger going on." He told them that if they prepared for death and for the life that continued after it, today's devastation would linger less. He hugged a lot of guys. He gave everyone in the room a list of notes from his speech. He told them they could call him at any time. He combated crisis with love, plain and simple. "Men left encouraged," former Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker remembers. "And they left in tears."
Eight months later, in July 2013, the Patriots opened training camp with many wondering whether they had lost their way. The arrest of Aaron Hernandez on murder charges rattled many on the team. The post-Spygate years had seen them lose two Super Bowls, which gave license for some to question the validity of the three they had won. Some players privately struggled with the ruthless reality of life in the NFL, where the machine and the pressure can become too much. Something bigger than football seemed to be at stake. The team needed someone. Strange as it sounds, special-teams star Matt Slater says, they needed someone who would "offer love with no strings attached."
They hired Jack Easterby.
"TONIGHT, MY GOAL is that you'll never be the same."
Easterby says that often in his devotionals, with the swagger of a hitter calling his shot. It's an invitation, and dozens of athletes and coaches -- from Tom Brady to Brady Quinn, from Bill Belichick to South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley -- have accepted it. They don't always buy into Easterby's gospel, but they buy into Easterby himself. His job is to be trustworthy, and it doesn't help him earn trust if he's out there talking about it, which is why he politely declined to speak for this story. "He's just a great person and friend," Brady says. "You feel a special connection with him and with his genuine caring for all the people in his life."

The Patriots, since his hire, say they are not the same, no matter what happens in Super Bowl XLIX and no matter the result of Ted Wells' investigation into whether the team illegally deflated footballs in the AFC championship game. Owner Robert Kraft calls Easterby a "wonderful individual," and Brady has told friends Easterby is one of the main reasons for the Patriots' success this past year. Safety Devin McCourty calls him "a godsend to this team" who has "helped create better men."
Easterby's presence in New England has been as welcome as it is strange. A man known for being a "big hugger, a loud hugger," as Pioli says, now roams the halls of a building where men are so lost in thought they often neglect to say hello as they beeline to their offices. An organization that proudly suffers wins as hard as it does losses -- once, after the Pats missed a fourth-and-inches in a blowout win, Belichick griped to the players, "Fourth and the size of my d--- and we can't get the first down?" -- now relies on an eternal optimist who, rather than referring to the Ten Commandments as "Thou Shalt Nots" calls them "the list of God's dos."
Easterby has a gift for making others feel better about themselves. Players say it's hard to overstate how precious that is, working for a fiercely bottom-line team and in a league they believe targets them unfairly. When Easterby talks to players or coaches, he pulls them in for an embrace, raising their handshake to his heart. He fixes his eyes to theirs so long without blinking that it's both awkward and somehow liberating. He is 31 years old, young enough to relate but old enough to have some scars. He tells them football is temporary, to never forget how blessed they are and to focus on their gifts -- their beautiful wives or girlfriends or children, their ability to earn a living playing sports. He always closes by reminding them he's a quick judge of character, and he can tell by the look in their eyes they are men of integrity. It's not something Patriots players and coaches have heard much since 2007, and certainly not a term used to describe them during the deflated footballs controversy in the run-up to Super Bowl XLIX.
THE TYPICAL TEAM chaplain is a pastor at a local church who volunteers to host Saturday chapel for 10 or so players who attend and is compensated with cash in a collection plate. In New England, Easterby has an office -- and it's near Belichick's. He is a classic Belichick hire: The more he can do, the more he does. He 
hosts Bible study, works coaches' hours in his office counseling players and their wives, throws passes in practice to Darrelle Revis and sometimes even jumps in on scout-team drills. When he's not listening, he's texting. When he's not texting, he's writing players and coaches individual notes, recapping their personal goals and reminding them of how thankful he is to know them. He prefers to be called a character coach, not a chaplain, because he doesn't push religion on anyone. "He just wants to love you," Slater says. "He just wants to be your friend. How can you not love a guy like that?"
Love doesn't come up often in football, but when guys speak of Easterby they use the word all the time. His first job after graduating with a degree in sports management from Newberry College in South Carolina, his home state, was in the ticket office of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Easterby later told friends it felt empty. After he had devoted his life to Christ as a freshman in college, he envisioned a career in helping people: part father, part brother, part friend. In 2005, he got a job as the academic adviser for the Gamecocks men's basketball team. He began hosting Bible study for all of USC's athletes and coaches, and he learned how to bond with all kinds of young men -- fatherless, fathers themselves, black, white, rich, poor -- by focusing like a laser on what they needed, not what he wanted. "Jack cut across all religious beliefs," says then-coach Dave Odom.
Like Belichick and Brady, Easterby is obsessed with process -- only his process is self-actualization. He challenges those he counsels to be better people the way coaches challenge them to be better players. He speaks to them in language they're familiar with, with occasional cuss words and the drive of a former athlete. He's written a devotion called the Competitor's Creed. I am a Competitor now and forever. I am made to strive, to strain, to stretch and to succeed in the arena of competition. ... My attitude on and off the field is above reproach, my conduct beyond criticism. Whether I am preparing, practicing or playing, I submit to God's authority and those He has put over me. I respect my coaches, officials, teammates and competitors out of respect for the Lord.
Once in a note to a coach, Easterby quoted Teddy Roosevelt's speech about being the "man in the arena" who was daring to be great, and he signed it:
Aiming to be the man in the arena,

Professional football players are drawn to type-A personalities like Easterby, who years ago as the officiant of Brady Quinn's wedding wrestled the schedule away from the wedding planner and streamlined the process to make it easier for the bride and groom. Players can relate to a deep-seated desire to be great. Easterby is not the only character coach in the NFL, but he might be the most ambitious one. He leaves his wife, Holly, and two young daughters in South Carolina and spends Thursday to Monday in Foxborough, arriving at 5 a.m. most mornings. "He makes personal sacrifices, and guys recognize that," Pioli says. And when your ambition is to give, it tends to bring out the best in those around you. Says Odom, "He is so good at helping players understand the opportunity they have to give to others; 'I care and give -- now you go care and give.'"
After one loss during the disastrous 2012 season in Kansas City, Easterby searched the building for Pioli. Easterby's three years with the Chiefs, he later told people, stretched him. He saw a playoff team and he saw a 2-14 season. He saw a murder-suicide. And he learned -- right before he got a call from the Patriots saying, "We heard you're the best in the league at what you do and we want to bring you up here" -- how important simple acts of devotion are in the silent turmoil of an NFL facility. That day, Pioli avoided Easterby because he knew what Jack wanted. He wanted to give him a hug. Pioli didn't want a hug. Well, that wasn't quite true. He did want a hug, but he didn't want to admit he wanted one. For years, he had heard Bill Parcells and Belichick grouse about the lonely life at the top, and now Pioli felt it. Easterby, undeterred, seemed to sense it. When he finally cornered Pioli, the two of them stared at each other like it was a gunfight.
"Jack," Pioli said sternly, "don't do it."
Jack did it, all right. And held it a few seconds long too.
FOR A MOMENT, put aside the report that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs in the AFC championship game were found to be underinflated. Stop wondering what might have happened in the 90 seconds a Patriots ball boy is reported to have spent in the men's room. Now imagine life with no benefit of the doubt. With guilt by association. With people dismissing your life's work as a byproduct of a culture of cheating. And with the presumption that you're shady because your organization's past indiscretion is hanging over your every move as you prepare to play in the biggest game of the year.
It's exhausting. It's dispiriting. And blind anger -- the clichéd us-against-them mentality -- only goes so far. Belichick always tells his players nobody is going to feel sorry for them.
But Jack Easterby does.
"As macho as we are in this locker room, we all want to be loved," Slater says. "As men, sometimes we don't know how to deal with different emotions or ups and downs. We don't grieve the way we should, experience sadness the way we should or express joy the way we should, because we're so focused on the job. Jack has been there to say, 'It's OK to be down. It's OK to have heartache.'"
In 2013, Slater broke his wrist and missed four games. He felt something worse than the dull panic common to injured athletes. He felt self-pity. Easterby indulged the feeling rather than burying it, saw it through rather than trivializing it and softened Slater's anger rather than inflating it. One of Easterby's aims is to help players unearth an inner joy that is more sustaining than having a chip on their shoulder. "If proving yourself becomes your identity," he tells guys, "it's a dangerous way to live." Slater emerged liberated and somehow thinking clearer. "The game of football can be taken away at any time," Easterby said. "Never forget what Jesus has done for you. Don't forget what's important." That, Slater says now, "was freeing to me. I said, 'You know what? The sadness and disappointment is temporary.'" Slater ended the season at the Pro Bowl.
Throughout the Deflategate investigation, Easterby has become something more than a character coach. Like a defense attorney, he serves his clients come what may. If the Pats are exonerated, he'll have helped them weather the storm. If not, he will embrace the chance to help them learn from it. You could see traces of Easterby's language in the language of the Patriots during Super Bowl week. Brady first admitted he "personalized" attacks on his character, a pristine reputation that some seemed so eager to trash. But he soon refocused. "Everyone will say, 'God, it's been a tough week for you,'" he said. "But it's been a great week for me, to really be able to recalibrate the things that are important in my life and understand the people that support me, and love me, and care about me."
It seemed too earnest to be true, but it also seemed to help. And as the team spent 
Super Bowl week deflecting questions about its character, the character coach texted guys to say he was grateful for "another opportunity to serve" and "blessed to have a chance to impact."
IN THE THIRD quarter of the AFC championship game, Easterby stood on the sideline in the rain. That quarter was the decisive moment of the game. The Patriots scored 21 unanswered points, all with legal footballs. The players and the crowd began to smell a Super Bowl trip. At the time, nobody knew that an investigation was looming. Players started to shout, to celebrate and dance.
Team chaplains often say they don't feel part of the team. They are expected to be on call, with little reward beyond the work itself. Sensing this, Slater approached Easterby, jumping and yelling, all but imploring him to join in. But for once, Easterby didn't offer hugs. For once, he seemed overwhelmed by the moment.
"I'm so humbled to be a part of this," he said, and turned back to the game, ready to serve.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer

Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs