Much to the annoyance of Alison I went to visit Rev. Henry Corbett the Chaplain to Everton football club, a team she has followed all her life !! Unfortunately I could only go on a day when she was at work (talk about rubbing salt into the wounds).
It was an excellent visit and Henry gave so much of his time and himself. I really felt at home in his company
Henry is a co~chaplain with Rev Harry Ross. A life long sport lover he described his passion for football chaplaincy as “wanting to be a pastoral safety net” and like many others he was determined not to be seen as someone who could `get stuff` (like free tickets etc.)
Henry started with the youth work at the training ground about 20 years ago, with Howard Kendalls (the then manager) blessing. Over that time his routine has developed into Tuesday visits (12~1.30 p.m.) and on a Saturday morning watching the youth academy playing. He felt that this was an important aspect of his work, to support the youth. Another important area was getting to know the background staff. So often sport centres on the sportsmen and women, and yet there are others working hard behind the scenes who need support as well.
As with all the other Chaplains I`ve met th two keywords that came out were confidentiality and trust. To thi sHenry also added that he always sought out “people of peace”. By this he referred to those who were not openly atagonistic but who would be supportive, understanding, friendly etc. These were the people who would often smooth the way in for the Chaplain, by their very presence in the club.
Again Henrys attitude was one of serve, support, encourage. The servant ministry is a holistic ministry seeking the whole person and so he would often ask questions about family life, life away from football etc. The Chaplain should exude the fact that there is life beyond football.
However, underneath it all was the need to live out what was being said. In other words the integrity of the Chaplain depended on his or her consistency with people. If you siad one thing you needed to be seen doing it. We spoke about the need to be culturally relevant; the Chaplain needs to be aware of what the current films, books are as that may be what the players are interested in and that could be where the questions come from. We reflected on how our congregations face this (or ought to) every day in their work places. What are our work colleagues interested in and how does Christianity relate to that ?
The Chaplain (and I would suggest the work place Christian) can often be a sounding board for people to `test` their own spiritual searching. We must learn to let people ask…….
Henry always prays before visiting the club for openings, people of peace, conversations etc. He is mindful that going to visit the club is going into their territory and it needs to be respected. Similar to our congregations going to work (it is a work territory, not church). Just as Henry is taking Christ into the club, so we can take Christ into our workplaces, but with similar sensitivity.
Increasingly football is recieving people of other faiths as well as a variety of Chrstian backgrounds and none. How does Henry see the role of Chaplain in this ? His view was that one is there to help not judge the persons spiritual life. If a Muslim needed help Henry would do what he could, whether that would be to search out someone of the Muslim faith or sitting talking was immaterial. The important thing was to honour the person and help where possible.
Henry spoke about evangelism wihtin a pastoral context, and reflected that true evangelism is getting alongside people, being interested in them and letting your faith rub off on them.
Evangelism should therefore always be
and in timing.
Conversation is bread and butter ministry.
In closing I asked about Parish/Chaplaincy conflicts. Henry felt that his Parish was largely supportive of his work, although he kept the Chaplaincy low key. However, he also fet that it was good to have something outside regular parish work as it helped to refresh his ministry.
His closing comments were excellent and summed up so muchof what I`ve seen in sports chaplaincy.
Its not about “just making good footballers, but about making good human beings.”
Today was an excellent visit and I promise to take Alison to see a game sometime by way of apology.