We’re almost two weeks into the Stanley Cup playoffs. In Canada this means that millions of people, myself included, will be tuned into the television every night for the next few months watching grown men compete for a big metal cup. This week on the podcast, we all put on our favourite jerseys and had an incredible discussion with Andrew Pepper, the hockey chaplain for the Halifax Mooseheads, a local major junior hockey program. Andrew works within the mandate of Hockey Ministries International, an organization supporting hockey players worldwide in their faith.
We talked about how these young men come to experience God through the program, most of which takes place in “chapel”. Chapel is described by Andrew as a place to share stories of faith and athletics, scripture and reflection. One player, having moved on from the team, shared with Andrew that he missed chapel. When Andrew suggested church as the naturally occurring progression, they told him that; “it just wasn’t the same.”
Now obviously it’s not the same. A hockey team is a tightly knit community, focused on a single mission, doing something together that they’re passionate about.
Let’s start here. Why can’t a church community be as passionate and as closely knit as a hockey team? Single mission? Check. Doing things as a community? Check. Passion? Check.
There’s no fundamental reason that a church can’t be as passionate and as closely knit as a hockey team. This shouldn’t be something that we have to say, but let’s move past that for a moment.
Chapel is, in many ways, a program of evangelization. For some, it is about supporting their existing faith when they’re away from home. For others, it’s about reigniting a faith practice lost over the years. For others still, it’s about introducing them to Jesus Christ for the first time. It’s designed to be a welcoming experience where questions are encouraged and where people feel both safe and accepted.
How many of us can honestly say that this is the experience we offer at our parishes? Do we have a strong hospitality program that welcomes people into our physical spaces? Do we scaffold newcomers and the un-churched in their faith formation at mass and other events?
It’s no secret that we are huge fans of Alpha as a tool for evangelization but if the experience we bring people to AFTER Alpha isn’t welcoming, no tool is going to work.
Hockey Ministries International works incredibly hard, across the entire globe, to help bring people to Jesus. Once their hockey career is over, they need a place to go. That place should be our parishes but when they walk through the door, we need to make them feel like we’re on the same team.