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Danny Driver: Sweaty Church intern

10 April 2015

Sweaty Church was started by Ian Mayhew and Jonny Wooldridge at St Paul's, Holgate, in York, in 2009. We've helped other churches around the country start their own Sweaty Church, and now there's one in Scotland.

It's aimed at primary-school-aged kids who may be involved in Sunday-morning sport. Sweaty Church aims to use games, sport, and activities as a way of teaching biblical values and motifs.

There are two principles: learn through doing, and learn as a family.

I got involved through an amazing God-moment. I was on a gap year with Christians in Sport, and I was praying with my mates about what each of us would do after we finished. I had no idea what I was going to do. We finished praying, and my Dad rang me to tell me that he'd just been chatting to the vicar of the church that runs Sweaty Church, and they might be open to the possibility of taking on a sports intern. Without hesitation I said yes, and the rest fell into place.

Anyone can join in, because it's for all the family. It can be as sweaty as adults want it to be. The kids more often than not get sweaty because they're so excited and hyped up. So I think the question is more like: how willing are adults prepared to get excited and hyped up with their kids? Little old ladies and fellas can certainly join, provided they bring a grandchild along with them - since that is who it's for. 

There may be some similarities to 19th-century "muscular Christianity", but not by design. The key difference is that in Sweaty Church the physical activities are used as learning tools. We all learn in different ways, and kids seem to learn well through doing. So, for example, rather than just telling kids to help others in need, we design games that they can complete only if they actually do help each other. 

When people, both in and outside of the Church, asked me what I was doing in York, and I told them my job title was sports intern, I often got raised eyebrows and a few laughs. "What on earth is the Church doing having a sports intern? I didn't realise sport was something the Church was interested in!" That really surprised me at first, and it made me ask questions about the way the Church and the wider world views sport.

I'm aware that eight or nine major football clubs started as church teams. Liverpool and Everton were two. But where I was, there wasn't much involvement. I wonder if part of it's to do with the culture we're in. Mainstream football is played across church-service times, and amateur football, too. It may not be deliberate, but there's been a slow divide between church and sport on a Sunday. 

I'm a born and bred Scouser from Bootle. Everything in the family revolves around sport, and, although my dad's a vicar, he's a Premier League cricket umpire. My mum works in a busy education department and is the best taxi driver to and from sport. Our Jack, my brother, is two years younger than me, and far better at footy than me, playing for Wrexham as a schoolboy. 

I love playing footy whenever there's a chance, but my main sport is athletics. I've competed nationally in the sprint and 400-metre hurdles. 

One of my earliest memories is of our Jack and me taking a funeral together (aged about three and five) for our pet worm, Ted. Because I grew up around church, there is often an assumption that any experience of God was confined to the church building. But, from a young age, my mum was in and out of hospital with chronic pain, and so I was frequently asking the question "Where is God among all this?" That taught me that anyone can experience God for the first time anywhere. 

I was just wrestling with it, really: not doubting, but asking questions. What is it that God is trying to teach us as a family or individuals? My mum doesn't grumble or moan, even when she's in pain; so it's certainly taught me not to grumble or mumble when I'm in pain, either physically or emotionally. 

Bodies aren't perfect, and they never will be in this life. If we believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us, that's an amazing privilege. Committing the body we've got to God, and saying thank you for another day of health and life, is important - making the most of the body you've got.

Different people have different bodies and health restrictions. That helped me when I was injured and not able to play, and I remembered Mum and how she just got on with it. God spoke to me in really profound ways, because the time I used to play sport was taken away and I had to fill it with other things. I filled it with more praying and more reading. 

Being competitive is a good thing. I appreciate the issues with drugs, cheating, violence - that's a difficult one. The root of that is human sinfulness; so the question in the sports world is how to live a life that's radical and different: refusing to be violent, use foul language, take drugs. To be a light in that dark world. 

The world of sport is unique and different, and there's wonderful opportunities to share Jesus and the gospel across all languages. 

We went into a Romany community in Macedonia with a football, and instantly there were 30 children around us. They couldn't understand our language, but kicking the football around brought us together, and then we were able to relate to them, and share testimonies with them via a translator. 

My understanding of God has definitely changed over the years, for the good. The faith I had when I was younger was inherited from my parents and not really personal. When I began to seriously ask questions about faith on a personal level, I discovered that my childhood abstract experience of God could actually become deep, real, and intimate. In other words, I went from mere head knowledge of God to a heartfelt love for God. 

Having finished in York last July, I was recommended for ordination training, and since September 2014 I've been at Ridley Hall in Cambridge. 

Each week, I head out on my road bike for a few hours at a time, to get away from whatever it is I'm doing. I generally see where the road takes me, as this enables me to relax, observe, and soak in the different locations, significant landmarks, and even the really obscure and random sights along the way. 

I'd love to experience being in the Kop for a Merseyside derby, Liverpool versus Everton, or a game against Man. United. I'd love to be able to compete in the UK championships as an adult in the 400-metre hurdles, as I did as a teenager. 

I like the sound of the Scouse accent, particularly when I've been away from Liverpool for several months. 

I was last angry when a bunch of random pedestrians thought it wise to stand in the middle of a cycle lane in Cambridge, and couldn't comprehend that they were in the way of a lot of cyclists. 

This will probably sound really strange to many people, but I am happiest when I pick myself up off the floor after a really hard athletics training session on the sand dunes. To delight in the body God has given me, and to worship him through exercise, brings a smile to my face.

Dad, Mum, our Jack, and various mentors at Christians in Sport have had significant influential roles in my life. Bishop James Jones was the first person, though, who encouraged Jack and me to use the sporting gifts we've been given - even when it meant playing sport on a Sunday morning. He encouraged us to go to evensong; so for two years Mum would take us to nine- o'clock kick-off, and then we'd all go to evensong at the cathedral together. 

I think the people who've influenced me most are my athletics coach, Graham, and all my training partners. They're like my second family. We've all grown up now, so are in different parts of the UK. Although none of them are presently Christians, they've taught me an unbelievable amount of stuff - even how I share my faith with them without using Christian jargon. 

It's probably best if I say I do pray, since I'm training for ordination, and my DDO and sponsoring bishop will no doubt see this. I'm mostly praying that I would continue to remember God's grace, and keep Jesus at the centre. 

I'd like to be locked in a church with Charles Studd, who played for England. He was one of the Cambridge Seven, who shared the gospel in China in the late 1880s. He played in the first Ashes Test in 1882. I'd love to be able to chat to him about being a top sportsman and a Christian, and how he went about sharing the gospel in unfamiliar cultures.

Danny Driver was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.  admin@sweatychurch.co.uk www.sweatychurch.wordpress.com 

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