Article from ‘Together’ – A Baptist Union of Victoria Publication – August 2023
Every weekend, dozens of Baptist church members can be found barracking, setting up equipment, checking in with players or praying for their needs, as they chaplain teams from a wide range of sports across Victoria.
People like Pastor Mark Purser from Crossway Baptist Church and Pastor Adam Hince from Essendon Baptist Church help behind the scenes to keep teams and sports figures running by supporting their personal growth as they deal with stresses on and off the field.
As demand for chaplains is high, on September 10 (or an alternate date of their choice), churches across Victoria will host Sports Sunday, an event organised by Sports Chaplaincy Australia (SCA) to encourage more Christians to consider becoming accredited chaplains equipped with SCA’s training, ongoing support and insurance cover.
After retiring from his hockey and cricket career, Mark Purser was keen to remain involved in high level sport and invest in people’s lives pastorally. He has been a volunteer chaplain for Essendon Football Club for the past 6 years, and also at Adelaide Crows and Eastern Ranges Football Club for 5 years each.
He aims to allow his personal faith to inform the way he carries himself in the sports organisation as he relationally supports players and staff.
“Whether it is grief counselling, running a parent workshop, leading a wedding/funeral, kicking balls at training and helping on game day – it is a huge privilege to be invited into the club’s workspace and contribute. Breaking down those barriers that players/staff previously had of Christians and supporting them holistically is so encouraging.”
Mark said there were opportunities right across the community for sports chaplains.
“We regularly pray for opportunities and open doors to share our faith in our community. God is answering our prayers, the sporting doors are opening in our clubs right across the nation. Our churches need to wake up to the need and invitation that is before us. The conversations are profound and those pivotal moments to care for someone in a time of need are powerful and often life changing.
“I am a more well-rounded Christian and a more effective pastor as a result of my chaplaincy experience. The conversations are profound and those pivotal moments to care for someone in a time of need is powerful and often life changing.”
Becoming a chaplain had always appealed to Adam Hince because he knew other people in the role and, when he became a pastor, he wanted to also serve in avenues outside the church.
He has been chaplain to Cricket Victoria since 2001, easing into the role over several seasons working with predecessor, “legend” Barrie Sutton.
Adam attends training and matches, meets players one-on-one for a walk around Albert Part Lake or Junction Oval, and occasionally participates in group training sessions – “where I usually don’t say much!”
“When I meet players, we discuss life outside of cricket – which for elite athletes is a strange mix of complex, boring and balanced. There have been three significant deaths in my time as a chaplain, which represent both the ‘best’ and most difficult times in my role. Each has been a powerful reminder that sporting teams and church communities have a lot in common (the good bits and the bad bits). It’s why I think sports chaplaincy is a good space for followers of Jesus to be in. We actually understand a lot of the politics, culture and expectations better than most. At times of deep sadness, it seems chaplains offer something unique and helpful.”
SCA Victoria and Tasmania coordinator, Luke Connaughton, said the need for sports chaplains was greater than the supply.
“Each week around 14 million Australians meet to play sport. Fields and courts across our country are packed with players and those cheering them on. Today, the sports club is one of the heartbeats of our community and we – the Church – are being invited to be there, to be present in all seasons. Our hope is that we would see a multitude of new chaplains identified, trained and sent into communities to represent the heart of Jesus.”
The best chaplains are people that “love Jesus and care about people”, Luke said. “You don’t have to love sport or be a ‘professional’ chaplain. Those that are already connected to a sports community, through their kids’ participation, or their own, are well placed.”
For Jess Suraci, the best thing about being a chaplain is building meaningful connections with people while sharing the faith and strength that only come from the Lord.
Jess became the chaplain at Taylors Lakes Football Club after receiving her SCA accreditation in 2014. She applied after watching her brother play rugby at representative level and witnessing the effects of two suicides that shook the community.
“I wanted to make sure that there was a formal option – people advocating for our young players who didn’t have support, advocating for parents that were not coping at home. I felt God was leading me to be that person.
“There is no way a person can do the work of a chaplain without their faith, and the strength, patience, wisdom and guidance that can only possibly come from the Lord. I know that for me, personally, planting myself firmly on the foundation of my faith is the only way I can continue to be effective.”