Sports clubs shut but doors open for chaplains

Do you love sport? Do your kids play sport? Maybe it’s time to consider an evangelistic opportunity that has arisen among sports clubs across Australia because of grief over the coronavirus, says Raewyn Elsegood, NSW state coordinator for Sports Chaplaincy Australia.

This pocket dynamo, who is also a chaplain for Netball NSW, describes the exponential rise in demand for sports chaplains since the COVID-19 crisis as “a miracle.”

“We’ve got the potential to place literally thousands of chaplains at the moment because of these open doors.” – Raewyn Elsegood

“The uptake has been that both national and state leaders are now dialling in for [chaplaincy] service and saying, ‘I want you in our executive meetings; I want you to care for our staff,” she tells Eternity.

“We’re a national body so we’ve got the potential to place literally thousands of chaplains at the moment because of these open doors.”

Normally, sports chaplains care for players, coaches and managers, while the paid staff “don’t usually get a look-in”, explains Elsegood. But paid staff in sporting clubs and organisations are the people who have been hit hard by COVID-19.

She says Cricket Australia has stood down 90 per of its staff, Netball NSW has stood down 50 per cent of its staff while Football NSW has stood down 75 per cent of its staff.

‘I believe pastoral care is the missing piece in the puzzle right now.” – Carolyn Campbell

Elsegood says Netball NSW is the shining example of a new understanding of the need for chaplaincy services in sports clubs.

“Netball has been one of our least engaged sporting codes and yet it was their CEO, Carolyn Campbell, who rang our 1300 number … and said, ‘I believe pastoral care is the missing piece in the puzzle.’”

Elsegood explains that over its 30-odd years, Sports Chaplaincy Australia has empowered volunteer chaplains to work at elite and grassroots levels in sports clubs. Often, their first contact involves critical incident response to a death or other tragedy. Usually, this provides an opportunity to place a chaplain in that club permanently – to provide holistic care.

“What we’re doing now is providing critical incident response to sporting staff,” explains Elsegood. “I am being invited into their already pre-booked Zoom meetings with their staff.”

At these meetings, she lets the executives know how Sports Chaplaincy Australia can care for them and provides a 1800 number for each state that is acting as a pastoral care call centre.

“I talk to them about grief and how they all need to reflect on the past, present and future and that, to reset, they all need to hope.

“We need to move forward with compassion and communication and connection and consistency.’”

“They’re listening because they’re hurting, so it’s an amazing opportunity.’ – Raewyn Elsegood

Elsegood says NSW pastoral care call centres are being trained to treat every caller as if their loved one has recently died.

“Some of [callers] are responding to this in absolute grief … One great example of how to care for staff is Netball NSW, who invited all their staff to a morning tea before Easter to say ‘just come on in, join the party, we hope that you’ll all be back working with us soon’, so they’re giving them hope.”

Elsegood describes the current situation as “the biggest opportunity we have ever had to get chaplains into these spaces.”

“There are over 750 soccer clubs in NSW and over 900 netball clubs, so there is a huge opportunity for us to care.”

Michael Pailthorpe, national director of SCA, said the “really massive opportunity” was at the level of community sports.

“In AFL in particular in Victoria and in the NRL in NSW, we’ve had a pretty good connection there at the elite level in both those sports and also with cricket at the elite level, but the demand has [now] translated down into community sport,” he said.

“I mean, there’s 70,000 sports clubs and supporting communities in Australia and we now have 500 chaplains serving in sport, including at the elite level and  the community level, but that’s not even 1 per cent of the capacity.”

He said SCA’s aim was to train an additional 2,500 chaplains by 2025, with all its courses now online.

“We’re effectively connecting with 2,000 clubs which means we can reach about a million Aussies across the country because there’s about 500 on average per sporting community, so it’s got incredible reach.

“This is a launching pad for us … if we can train up another 200 people in three to six months, that increases our chaplaincy capacity by 40 per cent right there.”

“This is a launching pad for us … if we can train up another 200 people in three to six months, that increases our chaplaincy capacity by 40 per cent right there.” – Michael Pailthorpe

Pailthorpe said SCA is trying to encourage local churches to find an average of five or six chaplains each as part of their offering to connect with the community.

“It’s just about going and being being the hands and feet of Jesus in your space where you’ve already known and connected,” he said.

Elsegood is about to make a call-out video in collaboration with the Sydney Anglican Diocese to be made available to Christian communities and distributed through its network of churches during the next few weeks

SCA is also trying to get the word out through Christian media, and has also placed ads on Christian and community radio stations across the country.

Elsegood is in a working group with other denominational ministers to bring together resources to equip sports chaplains. SCA has put all its training online, with two levels of training available, depending on whether or not someone is already a minister or a chaplain.

“We have to provide a sport with a chaplain and if we don’t have one for them, that would be so sad.” – Raewyn Elsegood

“I am very very grateful at the moment that God has opened those ears to hear, otherwise we could be not utilising this opportunity,” says Elsegood.

“I get paid for two days a week and I’m working six at the moment because of the need.

“That’s where our heart comes in as Christians. It’s like if I’m being told by God right now to do three or four years worth of work in three or four months, then I need to listen.

“We have to provide a sport with a chaplain and if we don’t have one for them, that would be so sad.”

If you would be able to answer this need, click here where you will find a link to register for SCA’s level 1 and level 2 training.

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