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Interview: Warren Evans, chief executive, Sports Chaplaincy UK

26 May 2017

‘I love God, I love sport — but really it is about loving people’

Sports chaplains provide ongoing pastoral and spiritual care, with permission, to people of faith or no faith, for the holistic well-being of all involved in the community of sport.


A sports chaplain aims to serve all in the club irrespective of people’s position, beliefs, or lifestyle.


We’re happy to take anyone who has a pastoral gifting and they’re spiritually alive. If you’ve got a passion, or think you’ve got more to do than sitting on that pew, get en­­gaged.


I sometimes get drawn into chap­laincy, and I’m still involved in my local club because I’m involved with its charity arm; but, mostly, I spend my time now speaking to governing bodies, colleagues across the UK, pastors, and leaders.


We’re a distinctly Christian charity, established in 1991 as SCORE, re­­sulting from the pioneering work of John Boyers, under the guidance and direction of leaders of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Over the next 20 years, the charity grew from its initial base in professional football to involve chaplaincy in horse racing, rugby league, rugby union, cricket, and athletics.


From the start, the charity’s been an interdenominational organisation, equipping and resourcing indi­viduals from a wide variety of Chris­tian backgrounds.


We’ve also been involved with the provision of chaplaincy to major sporting events, from the Olympic and Commonwealth Games to World Championships in Rugby League, Rugby Union, amateur boxing, and athletics. We aim to work with local and national organ­isations, and the organising bodies of sport. That’s resulted in organ­isations’ providing support — from Racing Welfare, the Premier League, the English Football League, and PFA, and the Scottish Football As­­so­­ciation, to name but a few.


In 2011, the charity changed its name to Sports Chaplaincy UK (SCUK), and, early in 2015, I was appointed as its new CEO and national director. We’ve grown over the past five years, and there are now around 400 volunteer sport chaplains serving in England, Scot­land, Ireland, and Wales.


People have preconceived ideas. They hear the words “sports chap­­laincy”, and, if they haven’t really heard of us, and they’re not sporty, they don’t really understand. They don’t think about them as a com­munity, or engage with the people and their needs and challenges.


A lot of people, especially in sport, think church is like what they see on TV: an old man with a dog collar who isn’t relevant.


Chaplains are selected through a number of channels: someone ex­­presses a desire, someone is recom­mended, and we actively seek out suitable individuals. Anyone who believes they are pastorally gifted and spiritually alive — we’ll journey with them.


We have some key values that we ex­­pect of all our chaplains. Presence is all about being there, being a difference, incarnational. “The Word became flesh dwelling among us.” Excellence in everything we say and do, because we serve an ex­­cellent God. Servanthood: not look­ing to your own interests, but the interests of others. Relationship, com­­­­passion, identification: “Love your neighbour as you love your­self.” Confidenti­ality: being trusted and a safe port of call. Humility: because it’s all about Jesus, not our ego.


There are some minimum stan­dards, such as a commitment to prayer, pastoral gifts, being account­­able, adhering to safeguarding prac­tices, consistent attendance at the sporting organisation outside of events and matches, commitment to ongoing development. All this helps demonstrate credibility, which is fundamental for a sports chaplain.


The role of the sports chaplain will vary greatly, depending on the club, as it is very much a permission-led activity. Regular visits to training and attendance at sporting events help develop relationships, with the chaplain endeavouring to act with discernment and sensitivity. Many chaplains also undertake traditional pastoral functions for their sporting organisations, such as funerals, wed­dings, and scattering-of-ashes cere­monies. In doing this, they can pro­vide clubs with an important link to the local community.


I was originally asked to get in­­volved by a friend who was, at that time, in 2009, the chaplain of my local professional Rugby League club. He was moving on, and felt God indicate that I was to be the next chaplain. I was then asked by the previous CEO to oversee chap­laincy within Rugby League in 2012, and then was approached by the board to take on the role of CEO in 2015. It was where God had placed me and I had a sense of peace and fulfilment. I love God, I love sport — but really it is all about loving the people God has placed before you.


Without being too spiritual, I be­­lieve that my whole life has been preparation for this role. I was priv­ileged to be brought up in a Chris­tian family; my father was a minister on a large council estate, and man­aged a large community centre. My business background gave me the opportunity to travel and gain a good understanding of process and people. I then sup­ported a couple of churches, and eventually pastored a church and community centre, at which point I got involved in sports chaplaincy.


When I was young and one of four brothers, we played everything. As an adult, I’ve gone to the gym and played squash, five-a-side, and touch rugby. I like most sports, but Rugby League and football would be the main sports I watch.


We believe that God has given us a dream to see an expression of his love and compassion in every com­munity called sport. There are more than 151,000 sports clubs in the UK, with an attendance of around 25 million men, women, and children. My hope is that we can communi­cate to the local churches that the com­mun­­ity of sport is a wonderful mission field, and the Church needs to engage them proactively.


We felt a couple of years ago that we needed to actively embrace the mar­gins of sport, since that’s what Jesus would do — and, in sport, the mar­gins are women’s and disability sport. So we’ve actively looked at encouraging more women as sports chaplains to serve women involved in sport, and it’s an area where we’ve seen significant growth.


We have 40 female chaplains at the moment. We started with three. We’d like 100, because there are hundreds of women in sport. We’ve got four or five in all-ability sport, but we’d like the Church to recog­nise that this is a community that we’re all responsible for. Our main partner is Disability Sport Wales, and they’re really committed to sup­porting us and opening doors.


People want to get involved with league clubs, but I encourage people to get involved with their local clubs. They think that sort of sport is adversarial, but some of these clubs have hundreds of children con­­­nected to them. There are plenty of Christians who are already in­­volved, but it’s not intentional.


Obviously, because of confidenti­ality we can’t give any more infor­ma­tion about any recent allegations of sexual abuse, apart from that we’ve been there to help. All chap­lains are DBS checked by their clubs, and we ensure they’ve had a safeguarding taster session as part of SCUK induction day, as well as encouraging them to go on to their relevant sport’s safeguarding train­ing.


I guess I was five when I sat on my father’s knee and I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour. This has developed, and is continuing to de­­­velop, through many spiritual ex­­peri­­­ences, but also through being more reliant on him, hearing his voice with a clarity which enables me to be all that he has called me to be as a husband, father, and leader.


I love silence, or being at the seaside and having a panoramic view and hearing the ocean waves.


When I’m not working I enjoy being with family and friends around a good meal.


What makes me angry? That would be injustice, bullies, and frustration at leaders who don’t “get it”, and should.


I’m happiest when I’m hugging my family, and when someone says “I can’t” — and, with some help, that becomes an “I can”.


My father and mother, and my wife, have been the biggest influences in my life. They walked the talk, very humbly and graciously.


I pray most for forgiveness, for wisdom, courage, and discernment, and for family and friends.


Of course, I’m locked in a church every week — with my friends and family. If I can’t have them, then I’d like some of my close mates, present and past. And Martin Luther King, Ed Louis Cole, Joseph, Caleb, and Barnabas. That would be a great bunch of people to have a conver­sation with.


Warren Evans was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. sportschaplaincy.org.uk

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