Bolton Wanderers Football Club

Well, my last `official` sabbatical visit proved to be something special. I met with Rev. Phil Mason (Methodist Superintendent Minister) and spent the day with him following him around as he worked at Bolton Wanderers football club.

It was quite amazing to see how the club have taken him on board into all areas; the staff were quite comfortable with his presence and this was evident from the amount of banter and fun that went on, alongside the more serious moments when his advice was sought. Players, officials, management and catering staff all knew him and had a word for him.

The first person that I was introduced to was the head of Human Resources. She explained to me that Phil was a valuable part of the club. Apparently the club had approached Phil about becoming Chaplain, so in that way they had a vested interest in making the chaplaincy work. However I got the impression that in Phil they had found just the right person.  In post for 6 years Phil had intropduced ino the cluban annual remembrance service (now in its 4th year) where supporters and staff could be remembered. This attracted about 300 people to the stadium to remember loved ones. In addition to this there was a floor of memorial bricks just outside the reception and nearby a book of remembrance with a place for flowers to be laid. This showed how the club were connecting with the eeds of the community. Phil was a regular contributor to the match day programme and was part of the “unity & diversity” group which helped community relationships by recognising the diversity of the community and yet seeking to unite as one.

Phil has also been a part of the reason BWFC had reached the intermediate level for racial equality standards.

On a match day he is wired up so that if necessary he can be contacted quickly to assist in any given situation. There is even a quiet room on the concourse for the supporters if they need a bit of space for peace and quiet, or for use in an emergency.

Phil has also been part of the drawing up of a bereavement policy within the club.

The head of Human Resources described Phil’s role as crucial to the club for he touches every part of the club.

His job description is annually appraised because Phil and the club see it as a means of improving the quality of their work year on year.

On a day to day level Phil’s sees his work as meeting people, exercising pastoral care and teaching core skills and values to the academy youths. He visits on one day each week and on match days. As with all chaplains this adds a stress to his ministry for he is also the minister of Bolton Victoria Hall with a staff of 43 and all of its projects.

The Church/circuit however are largely supportive of what he is doing and the circuit have taken it seriousy re. Phils future work amongst them. I felt that this was quite visionary of them in being prepared to release their Minister into the community. How many churches/circuits are prepared to do that ?

When I quizzed Phil about how he saw chaplaincy he explained it in two ways……………….

1    he felt it was important to show that faith is relevant in all areas of life

2    he saw his work (Victoria Hall, BWFC, and other chaplaincies) as a Fresh Expresion of Circuit

After this Phil took me to the training ground where I was to meet various people, players, manager, coaches etc. While Phil wasn`t around I took the opportunity to ask them about his work. They were all hugely supportive and spoke about him as part of the team. One person even went as far as to say that the club would suffer badly without his input ! High praise.

Why was this ? Well, perhaps the answer lies in the fact that while I was there a particularly sensitive issue arose which needed to be resolved. A small group of people expressed their opinion and all sought Phil for his. Once the decision was made it was left in Phil’s hands to ensure the result was carried out. I felt that this showed how the club understood the need for a holistic approach, dealing with issues from a practical sense, through a business sense, and inclusive of the spiritual realm. In many places I`ve heard the chaplan speak of the need to see their work holistically or see players in a holistic way, but here it was evident that this wasn`t just Phil`s view but it was the view of the club.

We spoke about how sometimes a club would go through depressed times and how the chaplain needed to be the upbeat voice; the one offering support and the one offering the listening ear. Phil echoed the sentiments of Graham Locking (newmarket) when he spoke of the need to listen to anxieties and also to peoples stories.

Phil also recognised that he was the chaplain to all people irrespective of nationality or faith. In the club there are approximately 19 different nationalities with all of the cultural and religious dimension that brings. It was Phil`s job to try and ensure that much of this is met. Consequently he would find Mosques and Churches for players to worship in, he would learn about dietary needs at festival times and so on. Phil also needs to relate to all people from the chairman to the person at the entrance on a match day. Phil was to be Jesus to all people.

This was a fascinating day of just wandering around behind Phil and observing, but it opened up so much in the way of potential and I could see how BWFC embraced Phil in all ways. In many ways it was an exciting conclusion to my sabbatical visits.

Horse Racing Community

This has to be one of the best kept secrets in Methodism but one of the best pieces of work carried out by a Methodist Minister that I have come across !!

Rev. Graham Locking is a Methodist Minister who works full time as chaplain to the Horse Racing Community in this country. Based at Newmarket and appointed through the Score organisation, Graham treat me to a fascinating insight into the world of horse racing  and his work in particular. 


The night before, I stayed at Grahams manse and we were up till the late hours talking theology (and Grahams passion for clocks !!). All that we spoke about was carried through the following day as I observed Graham at work.

We rose at 5.00 a.m. as Graham likes to be out and about early enough to catch the morning training on the Heath. Consequently by 6.00 a.m. we were watching the trainers, the jockeys and the horses on the gallops. Graham commented that he liked to do this as many trainers would come across and have a few words with him while waiting for their horses to approach. Its about building relationships and although there were no life changing conversions (as such) those conversations about the other persons life sometimes led into situations which could be deemed to be more meaningful, baptisms, funerals, searching questions etc. How often do we miss out on the simple day to day chat as if it is not a vital part of relationship building.

After this we returned for breakfast at 8.00 a.m. and then out again to visit the stables. As a complete novice to the racing world I hadn`t realised how many stables there were just in the vicinity of the town; Grahams job is to relate to them all if they`ll let him. We went to visit one where I was entertained by listening and watching the banter between Graham and the owners daughter who Graham would like to see married !! So would her Father ! It was good natured banter that would keep open the door of friendship. Graham used this opportunity to chat to the stable owner who had played a major part in the setting up of the chaplaincy. Interesting parts of the conversation centred on the owners daughters marriage or no marriage, his recent barge holiday and his new member of staff in the office. The subject of racing didn`t really figure but Graham  made sure that the gentleman knew that Graham was interested in him beyond the sport.

Then we went to the largest stud farm in the area where the security was very tight, but Graham has an all areas pass. Once again it was interestng to see the ease with which Graham related to the employees, thinking of their families and their lives beyond the sport.

Finally we went to the British Racing School where potential jockeys are trained and given life skills beyond the sport. Rory Macdonald, the chief executive, was generous with his time in talking about how the young people are trained, looked after and cared for. He was also, like others, full of praise for Grahams role and especially the part he played in the life of the school, where he would be on hand to offer advice and support to all. Indeed, I had the privilege to see Graham in action as he offered advice to one of the members of the school.

Throughout the day I came across people who had nothing but respect for Graham and the work he is doing. However, I was more than aware that Graham is a national chaplain and as such has to relate to other stables, race courses, jockeys and members of the community up and down the country. Consequently part of his work was to travel the motorways to race meetings and to visit a wide variety of stables. Graham acknowledged that the work at Newmarket was a full time job in itself without the addition of the rest of the country. He spoke about the need for a second chaplain, but I wonder if there is a need for more, or for stadium based chaplaincies similar to rugby and football ?

Certainly, I was impressed by the work and world in which he operated. It was a truly fascinating day and I thank Graham for it.

In our conversations we explored how Graham is heavily influenced by Rick Warrens book “The Purpose Driven Church” which is one of my favourites also. In it Rick Warren urges Christians to see life through the eyes of  surfers; we need to paddle in the water waiting and looking for the next big wave of God, then get on and ride it for all its worth. In other words we need to see what God is doing instead of expecting him to follow what we are doing. As with all surfing it involves a lot of paddling. We reflected on how the paddling is symbolic of talking, listening, being a presence, reflecting and the wave is the move of the Holy Spirit raising up opportunities.

In a similar fashion Jesus told his disciples to “wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes……” We need to be led by the Holy Spirit. True evangelism is listening and getting involved in the lives of others before the subject of Jesus arises. True evangelism is NOT having the answers but being part of Gods answer even if you don`t know what it is or what God is doing.

All this related to how Graham approached his work in the racing community. It is a world of strong, ripe language, a world of broken relationships, of bankruptcies, of cheating, a world of loyalty towards ones own, of incredible generosity and a world of strong community. It isn`t a lot different to the world that the church often doesn`t get involved with. Consequently Graham saw the work of a chaplain as ……..

being available

being accepting

being respectful

We spoke of Johns Gospel of life. The Church needs to accept that there is a life to live and we need to help people enjoy it, not hinder them with guilt, sin etc. We need to offer them “life in all its fulness”. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life…….” Jesus didn`t seek to condemn people but he wanted to lift them up; we too are called to love others not judge. I think that there is a major lesson here for the church.

I came to the end of a fascinating, enjoyable, tiring, busy day in which I felt my understanding of Christianity to be affirmed in a way that circuit life often fails to do with our determination to uphold the church as it has always been and our failure to deal with the hurting world; our detemination to maintain a middle class institution rather than meet the needs of the ordinary person who is seeking to make sense out of life; our preoccupation with sexuality rather than our enjoyment of what God has given us.

Here endeth the rant for today !!!!!

This has been one of the most enlightening and challenging days of the whole sabbatical and I wsould love to visit a race meeting now, to see the other side of it all. You never know I might take a day off to visit Nottingham or Southwell !!!!





Only 3 weeks to go…….

Just thought as I typed tonights blog that there are just over three weeks left and then I`m back at work. Its flown by, and I`m going to have to start preparing my first sermons soon ………………… Still only another seven years till the next one !!!    

Tomorrow I travel to Newmarket for a couple of days visiting the full time Methodist Chaplain to the horse racing fraternity. Knowing nothing about horse racing this should be an interesting experience.       



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

in context,

in giftng

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.

Newcastle Falcons

Rev Dave Elkington is the chaplain to the other North Eastern sporting giants, Newcastle Falcons, the local Rugby Union team (; 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.


Its been brought to my attention that the comments option has been disabled. This is intentional in order to stop abusive comments being made. If you have a valid comment to make please send it to my e~mail address which is

I would be interested in what you think about my sabattical and whether or not I`ve provoked any thoughts amongst you.



July 19th. I visited Rev John Boyers, the chaplain at Manchester United but also the driving force behind the charity SCORE ( which has set up and supported many chaplaincy projects throughout the United Kingdom in a variety of sports, including Rugby Union, Rugby League, Cricket, Motor sports, Athletics, Horse racing and Football.

John began by explaining how he became involved in this work, much of which is outlined in the excellent book “Footballing Lives” (Canterbury Press). John is a Baptist Minister and the Baptist Union invited him to worjk full time in the area of sports chaplaincy in 1991. What a far sighted vision that was and how brave of the Baptist Union ! We then went onto discuss chaplaincy in general.

On this occasion we didn`t discuss his role at Manchester United very much but simply dwelt on the work of a chaplain, in general terms.

Johns observations were many and varied. One that interested me was his view that a sports chaplain is different to other chaplaincies, as there is the need to understand the sporting mentality. In industrial areas there is the sense of the workforce being more stable and remaining in one place, whereas in the sporting world there is much more mobility and variety, both of employees and employers. Sports people move from club to club, situation to situation; employers are sometimes distant from their employees by the very nature of the work.

John felt that in football in particular much depends on the manager as to whether or not the chaplain is accepted, and this will relate to previous experiences that manager may or may not have had. Foreign managers tended not to be as familiar with the concept of chaplaincies.

Some of the sgtatemtnts that John made seem quite obvious but there is a strong need for them to be reiterated and recieved afresh again and again. One of these being that the chaplain needs to be able to transcend any denimational bias and indeed may find themselves in a situation where help of someone from a different faith is required. The chapliain is truly to be the Christian presence and simply helps regardless of background, creed etc.

The internationalisation of the sports world has brought new challengbes and issues in these areas. It also means that some sports people come with strong faith, strong sense of denomination and some come with no faith at all. The key is to be open to all.

This must surely be true of the church as well. Are we REALLY open to all or do we pick and choose who we help ?

The SCORE vision is of a network of local volunteer chaplains delivering this vital role in a professional way. Alongside other Christian sports charities they see their role as being a good Christian witness within sport. In particular John pointed out that the most long established of all these agencies is Christians in Sport who deal with the sporting world in general. Had a very high regard for their work.

We looked at the passage from Ephesians chapter 4 where Paul speaks of the leadership gifts. John felt that the chaplain was to have an element of all of them but primarily the gift most required is that of Pastor. In a sense it is like pastoring a small secular congregation.

We also spoke about the need to “understand the culture” as the sporting world has a different culture. I commented about how Paul would look around him before starting his work; looking at the unknown God in Athens and using it to speak. Chaplains need to get alongside sporting people, understand their concerns etc. before responding. Vital. Cannot simply go in and speak about our faith before we`ve even come close to understanding them. Chaplains need to see people (perhaps players especially) as whole people. I would say that its abouttime the Church in ggeneral started seeing people in this way rather than simply as pew fodder !!

As we drew to a close we spoke about the funding of SCORE. Apart from the funding from the Baptist Union (£15,000) it needs to find its own funding. The Methodist Church does not support this work financially despite various Methodist chaplains and also the work of Graham Locking, Methodist Minister, who is employed full time in the Horse racing world. Perhaps this needs to be addressed if Methodism is to be serious about the value of this work. By my reckoning if each District put £500 towards the work then we may be close to the Baptist Union gift.