Newcastle Falcons

Rev Dave Elkington is the chaplain to the other North Eastern sporting giants, Newcastle Falcons, the local Rugby Union team (www.newcastle-falcons.co.uk); Dave has been chaplain to the Falcons for 4 seasons now, although has been a ticket holder or much longer. His Christian journey is one of an ex sports teacher who has a passion for Rugby and Cricket, so to take up a chaplaincy such as this is a natural progression of skills, gifts and passion. How often does the Holy Spirit develop and build what he has already put there ?

Dave shared with me how Score approached him and the club, but initially the club were wary. One of the key influences was Inga Tuigamala, the great Rugby international, who is also well known for his Christian faith.

Although it was acknowledged that each club operates its chaplaincy differently Dave seemed to be in a unique position of having open access to the club at any time; a very visible presence. Under the nickname of “Rev” Dave makes it his policy to try and visit the club every Wednesday, as well as match days and other occasions. In this way he becomes available should he be needed, without pushing himself forward and in a non~threatenng way. Dave seems to put a lot of effort into keeping in touch with club developments, especially checking the club website every day. As with other chaplains he considers it important to see beyond the playing side and see the players as whole people, with lives to live; lives which include the same day to day concerns as the rest of us.

Because of this it was important to spend as much time with the academy as with the first team. Not only is this a part of building for the future but it sends a message to the whole club that you`re not just there for the glory of mixing with the famous, but that you do care for everyone. The youngsters also remember the care and concern shown, when they do eventually graduate. Dave used a phrase “they are an important part of our club“. Again lesson to be learnt here by the church; show an interest in the young and nurture them through to maturity. They`re not just the future church, but an important part of the church today.

In a similar way we spoke about the backroom staff. Dave felt that they too needed the care and concern of the club chaplain, but to the average fan are often forgotten because they are not seen.

Returning to the players Dave observed that most of them are highly intelligent living lives that revolve around their interests and hobbies. The chaplain, therefore, needs to be aware of what they`re interested in ready for any questions they may have. This was shown in the recent release of the Da Vinci Code, book and film. For a period of time it became the topic of conversation within the club asnd Dave was naturally the one to focus the questions on. There is a great need to be culturally aware of the world around us ad meet that awareness. Its no good expecting the sporting world to come to our way of thinking before we`ve even begun to understand theirs. How often does the church expect the world to turn to our ways of doing things before we`ve even tried to understand theirs ?

Dav felt strongly that he was often the link between club and church, but needed to show that he is not the exception ! The danger is that the chaplain can be seen as a good person whilst the rest of the church is bad. Daves role involves letting the club know that the church cares for them. Consequently at the beginning of every season every player recieves a letter of welcome from the chaplain. His ticket is to sit with the families of the players so it is another opportunity to get alongside people in a non~threatening way.

The message at all times is “if you want me, I`m here, but if you don`t I`m not offended

As I discovered elsewhere the key words are relationship and trust. Dave was determined (and rightly so) not to betray any confidences (I think I`d have been disappointed if he had). Trust is vital; how many times have I heard this over the pas tmonth ?

In order to build up relationships it is vital to understand personality tpes so that everyone is treat differently but appropriately. There is a need to learn the differece between banter and more serious conversations and all the time to give the message that conversations are to take place at their speed and time. I felt that this was very much a people centred ministry as it should be. It was also acknowledged that in difficult times the chaplain is often the one who takes the flak (hurt, anger etc) but cannot afford to take it personally.

We reflected on the honesty of the sporting world. Life is messy and yet many Christains don`t recognise it or hide their own messiness. Weaknesses are discouraged by and large, whereas in sport the messiness of live seems to be more visible and consequently is dealt with in a different way. Often it can be confronted. Perhaps this is because a club needs to run in a business like manner, tackling issues and causes.

Following on from this w reflected on how a struggling club will deal with its problems by changing whats necessary, players, club structure, club fnances etc. but so often a struggling church doesn`t. Is this because …………..

1) they don`t recognise strengths and weaknesses or because they see closure etc. as failure ?

2) churches have lost recongition of their purpose, whereas the sporting world knows its purpose and mission ?

3) churches are congregational based, thereby meaning the purpose for existence depends on the likes and dislikes of the congregation ?

I feel that it is pobably a mixture of all three but certainly the church would do well to look at the sporting world and model itself more on its ability to change and move with the times. Perhaps we need more of what I call the Lucozade model; dealing with things the way the soft drink manufacturers did years ago, when they changed their appearance and marketing, but retained the content in its truest form. Consequently it is one of the highest soft drink retailers in the world now.

Certainly it is worth checking out the website and discovering the four aims of the Falcons community programme, which are as follows………..

The work of the Community Programme is based on four guiding principles:

  • Accessibility To ensure that professional players are accessible to the community and become involved in all elements of community work.
  • Continuity To make sure that community relationships go beyond being short term or one-off experiences.
  • Quality To make all programmes of the highest quality through management by qualified, skilled and motivated staff.
  • Purpose To make all work worthwhile and congruent with the objectives of the Newcastle Falcons.

Churches could learn much from this.

I rounded off a most enlightening day with a visit to the club, a delightful meal in the club bar “The Hiding Place” and a tour of the ground. If ever I can find out how to upload my pictures there will be a picture of the ground on here. Thanks to Dave for  wonderful day.