This is the fourth season of my service to the Southern Illinois Miners, a Frontier League team of independent professional baseball, through Baseball Chapel. There are a number of things that Baseball Chapel does very well in their service of professional baseball at the Major League and Minor League levels. I would like to simply mention some of them and to offer them as wise models of effective service.
First, a glance at their website will allow you some history and a sense of their purposes for ministry in this sport. http://www.baseballchapel.org/ Below is an excerpt.
-- About Us --
Baseball Chapel is an international ministry recognized by Major and Minor League Baseball and is responsible for the appointment and oversight of all team chapel leaders.
To bring encouragement to people in the world of professional baseball through the Gospel so that some become discipled followers of Jesus Christ.
To see deeply committed players use their platform to influence people around the world to become followers of Jesus Christ.
In the early 1960's, players from the Cubs and Twins initiated chapel services when they were on road trips. Services were usually held at the team hotel.
In 1973, Watson Spoelstra, a Detroit sportswriter, approached Commissioner Bowie Kuhn with the idea of organizing a chapel program for every major league team. Kuhn granted approval and Baseball Chapel was created.
In 1974 services switched from hotels to ballparks and chapels were first held during the playoffs.
At the start of 1975 all major league teams had a chapel program.
A minor league program was established in 1978 and chapels were first held during winter ball in Latin America. Baseball Chapel is a non-denominational Christian ministry committed to the spiritual development of people throughout pro baseball.
Chapel programs are established for all 210 teams in the major and minor leagues and many independent league teams.
Approximately 3,000 players, coaches, managers, trainers, office staff and other team personnel, umpires and members of the media attend each week.
Chapels begin in spring training and end after winter ball in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic has concluded. Hundreds participate regularly in Bible studies that are conducted with many teams during the week.
One of the things Baseball Chapel does very well is to treat every level of baseball with the same respect it does the Major Leagues in the USA. The handouts, the Bible study materials, the umpire room materials, the reporting forms, virtually everything are the same for our independent league baseball club (where the players make very little money) as they are for iconic Major League Baseball clubs like the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.
Ministry to umpires is another thing Baseball Chapel emphasizes. These people are vital to the game and are too often overlooked or shunned by fans and even sports ministry people. We are required to report on our ministry with umpires just like we are with players and coaching personnel.
Baseball Chapel has a code of conduct and a manual for its chapel leaders. These are tailored to each level of baseball as the details vary widely regarding security, required credentials, etc… The code of conduct spells out plainly what one should and should not do at the ballpark. This removes a lot of grey areas and provides solid guidance.
Weekly themes and handouts are provided by Baseball Chapel for its leaders. Each spring I look at the Miners’ schedule, find the home Sunday games, and download the handout material for each week on which I will be leading a chapel. The themes and the handouts are the same no matter where one is serving. I have the freedom to choose a Bible text from which to speak, but I find the themes to be engaging and broad enough to allow me to speak to the hearts of our players, staff, and the umpires.
Baseball Chapel realizes the prominence of Latino players and has its materials in both English and Spanish. The New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs they supply for me to distribute have both languages in them and the chapel handouts are bilingual as well.
Baseball Chapel helps its chapel leaders network well. They have a supervisor appointed to recruit, train, encourage, and oversee the service of each club’s chapel leader. In addition, inside the secure area of the website, they have contact information for each club’s chapel leader and for their player representative. This is of tremendous value as each Saturday I go to the ballpark looking for the player representative to prepare for Sunday’s chapel. This way I have a name and a phone number for making the connection.
Baseball Chapel has expanded its footprint to serve well across the world of professional baseball. This excerpt from the website will indicate how broadly Baseball Chapel is serving. “Baseball Chapel exists for Major and Minor League teams in all of the locations indicated above in the United States. Baseball Chapel's ministry also extends to professional leagues and academies in Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Baseball Chapel began expanding its ministry into Japan to those players in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in 2005. We hope to begin expanding into the Korean professional leagues in the near future.”
I am thankful to be among the hundreds of volunteers serving in Baseball Chapel’s ministry to the thousands of people across the game of baseball. I hope these simple observations are helpful in your service of the men and women of sport.