After a hugely enjoyable day at Newcastle I travelled down the M1 and M62 to visit the fair city of Hull. First time I`d ever been there and I have to say I was most impressed by the shopping area.
Allan Bagshawe is the chaplain to both Hull City A.F.C. (football) and Hull F.C. (Rugby) as well as to various other organisations. Allan gave me yet another fascinating insight to the work that he does alongside his role as Parish Priest. His Church is within walking distance of the K.C. stadium where both teams play and so he refers to it as the Stadium Church which gives some indication of how highly he regardxs his work.
Once I had got over the confusion about which Hull he was talking about (football or rugby) I was able to grasp some new insights that he gave me.
Having been a chaplain for 28 years I was able to ask him about whether or not chaplains were suspicious of `outsiders` and he agreed they probably were. Why ? He felt that it was because chaplains saw their role as a ministry in itself and didn`t want it hijacked by people who were seeking reflected glory, kudos, freebies etc. I could understand that and later that evening I was able to witness at first hand how Allan quietly ministered to both fans and members of staff at the ground.
Allan felt that there was a need to have access at all levels if relationships were to be built but alongside that there also needed to be a respect for areas offered by the clubs. Allan felt that you simply couldn`t presume a right to be there; it was a privilege not to be abused. He tries to visit the clubs for part of a day each week but like others he acknowledged that it was difficult finding the time. However he also felt that the important thing was to create an awareness that the chaplain was `there` if need be and for the whole club, not just the players.
Allan thought that perhaps rugby chaplaincy was easier by the very nature of the sport. Rugby is still, despite its growing profile, a closer knit community, friendlier, and smaller, whereas football with much more money floating around tends to have a need for more remoteness and the need to be businesslike in all its dealings.
Again there was an awareness that some Christians see sports chaplaincy simply as part of the ministers enjoyment (an add~on for him or her to amuse themselves with) and not an essential part of Ministry. Surely the increase in sports chaplaincy will begin to challenge this ?
Allan felt that chaplaincy is a type of fresh expression of church. When I enquired further we talked about how he has a community carol singing for Hull City (Football) on the pitch each year as well as carols in his church as well. On one occasion it was tried in a stadium room rather than church and the surroundings were more intimate. The clubs were more relaxed in the environment that they knew well. (Maybe this is a challenge to the church as it reaches out ??) As we pursued this line of conversation Allan pointed out that out of opportunities like these, out of other opportunities such as pastoral situations and ordinary day~to~day conversations, people see the chaplain as Church. The chaplain becomes Church to them and in this way it becomes a fres expression. No hymns, few prayers but still church. I found this line of thought to be most challenging about all that we do in expecting the world to come to us, instead of us getting alongside the world. Too often `they` should do it our way instead of us simply being present with `them` and loving them for who they are.
Allans view was that chaplaincy is about befriending and I feel strongly inclined to agree with him.
After some generous hospitality Allan took me to the stadium where I was able to gain some of his enthusiasm and pride for what has been achieved, but also to see how he interacted easily and frely with club officials, with fans and with the whole situation. Hull (rugby) beat Harlequins 20~8 in a most enjoyable night. Afterwards Allan had to go and see someone so he left me to find my way home; as I walked out I chatted with a fan and her family about what Allan meant to them and her comment was “that without him I would have given up on the church”. Surely no finer praise. She also pointed out which way I had to go to get back to the car. She pointed to the Church tower and said keep going towards that ……….. Well, I did and managed to get lost. However, by keeping an eye on it I was able to find my way back eventually and then onto the motorway and home.
Sermon ?? Keep an eye on the Church and you`ll find your way home. I hope thats always true but I`m not sure…….. Better to keep an eye on Christ, see what he`s doing in the world and follow Him !! He`ll always bring us home.
So, leaving a very wet, wild city of Hull I gave thanks for a most enjoyable couple of days (Newcastle and Hull) and praised God.