Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 FCA Sports Chaplains Conference

Earlier this week the Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosted its annual Sports Chaplains Conference at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas (USA). We were very pleased with every aspect of the event. The venue, The Hope Center, is a wonderful facility which houses forty-one non-profit ministries. It is a short drive from DFW airport and their staff were gracious hosts.

The event’s featured speaker was Baltimore Ravens (NFL) team chaplain, Johnny Shelton. Johnny did a solid job of encouraging and inspiring the 90+ sports chaplains and character coaches from across the USA. Our general sessions included 15-20 minutes of musical worship and prayer as well. We were joined by FCA CEO and President, Coach Les Steckel, on Tuesday afternoon as he offered his encouraging remarks about the value of ministry to the men and women of sport through sports chaplaincy. FCA’s national director of training, Dan Bishop, skillfully emceed the meetings and led the entire process of preparation and execution of the event. Jordan Barnes contributed tremendously in her administrative role, making a very complex process seem very simple to the conferees. Thanks to each and all.

On Tuesday morning there were three breakout sessions about some best practices of a sports chaplain – I led one about Team Chapels, Nate Bliss from Syracuse University led one on development of athlete huddles and relationships, while David Gittings from Virginia Tech University related to Crisis and Conflict strategies. Each conferee was able to choose two of the three sessions to attend. These were followed by huddle meetings, small group discussions, for the conferees to discuss and process their thoughts about these matters.

Later on Tuesday we heard from two gentlemen regarding two very important issues. Those who serve collegiate sportspeople all appreciated the information gathered from a local NCAA Compliance officer. He helped us understand some of the areas of the rules which directly affect sports chaplains’ service. We were then given some tremendous counsel from an attorney of the Alliance Defending Freedom regarding our constitutional rights as sports chaplains. Both of these sessions were very well received.

Just prior to lunch we had three more breakout sessions. One was for those who serve at colleges or universities, led by Richard Lopez of the University of Arizona. One was for female sports chaplains and it was led by Brandi Cantrell from Texas Tech University. Still another was led by Chris Rich of FCA in Pennsylvania and it was for those who serve as sports chaplains or character coaches with high schools, junior high schools, and club teams.

After lunch we had a panel discussion with a wide variety of questions being posed to four veteran chaplains. Three of them have or currently serve NFL clubs and one has served in collegiate sports for over twenty years. Later in the afternoon, I made a presentation about the recently launched website, I outlined the process of development, the structure of the site, its goals, and values. The site has found wide acceptance among these leaders and we are excited about how it will facilitate the growth of sports chaplaincy within FCA, across the USA, and around the world.

One unique facet of this conference is that we give each conferee $15.00 cash for dinner, shuttle them to an area with lots of restaurants, and then turn them all loose for dinner together. They group themselves and enjoy a fun evening of dinner and conversation, sharing their best practices, strategies, and stories of success, struggle, and redemption.

In our final session, we again enjoyed worship music, another inspiring talk and an intimate session of prayer. Dan Bishop then helped wrap things up with some evaluation, instructions for airport shuttles, affirmation of our vision, mission, and values. We were led by Brandi Cantrell in prayer for our colleague, John Randles, as he battles cancer.

As we look forward to next year’s conference, you should expect that it will be back in Kansas City at the FCA National Support Center. We are discussing a slightly earlier start on day 1 and a slightly later finish on day 3. We are so pleased with this conference that we would like to lengthen it so as to add even more value.

Thank you to each and all who planned, executed, attended, and presented at the conference. 

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