Rural faith & sport project
Painswick & Stroud Local Area Ministries: Faith and sport in partnership in rural communities
Sport has many benefits for health, physical (like reducing obesity, the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, as shown by the Chief Medical Officer, 2004 and many others) and mental (helping people to cope with life’s problems, sleeping better feeling better about themselves and their capabilities), far outweighing risks of injury. In most of its forms sport also creates sociability and social capital (Collins, 2007), and brings in performance feelings of mastery, joy and achievement. Sport is the most popular of youth activities out of school.
In the 19th century churches were in the forefront of promoting sport following the ‘Muscular Christianity’ of major public schools Rugby Eton and Harrow, and later the armed forces and administrators and commercial leaders across the British Empire Their sports clubs even transformed into one-third of the English football Premier League. Then, as sports provision by local authorities, national voluntary Governing bodies of Sport and commercial providers multiplied after World War II, churches aged, dwindled in membership and most gave up their sports grounds and clubs. Now, especially in churches with numbers of young people and of evangelical style, there is reviving interest both for their own members and to offer space, links and support to local communities.
This is lead by organisations like Youth for Christ, Ambassadors for Sport, and Christians in Sport, and supported by Sports chaplaincy UK and the University of Gloucestershire which provides the only validated full and part time training courses for sports ministers and chaplains in the UK (see below). Our Case Study is of Painswick and Stroud Local Area Ministries in sport.
In Stroud and the adjacent Cotswold villages in Gloucester diocese, local Christians wanted to help youngsters find Jesus through sport, and out of a Mission Action Plan gathered to employ Kerstin Friend as a youth minister and Husband Tim as a schools and youth minister through a company limited by guarantee in 2003. Their success was such that when Tim moved to take up a sport ministry in Newark & Sherwood, the trust looked to widen support, and obtained contributions from Methodist, Baptist, United Reform and Roman Catholic churches, and a five-year grant for 50% of salaries and expenses from the Joseph Rank Trust for Ruth Graveling and Andrew Harding to take up posts as sports ministers, and to train part-time via Masters degrees at the University of Gloucestershire. Sports ministers do need to have various appropriate governing body coaching qualifications to assure teachers and parents that their children are in safe hands.
Pulse Stroud and Hills & Vales members at Viney Hill
Outward Bound group ready to sail
A developing programme
By 2011-12 the work comprised:
- vibrant regular assemblies and dance/sports coaching sessions in schools, sometimes involving Pulse members
- Pulsar Olympic morning sessions in 11 primary schools
- three after-school primary Pulsar sports clubs (5-8s)
- Wacky Wednesday craft, games and bible stories for girls, and Freaky Friday games and sports at a local school
- social and sports groups with 11-13s & older children
- a Christian Union, Alpha groups and messy church and fellowships attached to churches
- family fundays, as with 1,500 people at Stratford Park Leisure Centre, Stroud
- Summer vacation sports schemes, and Outward Bound groups
- in 2013 a group went to build a house in a shanty town and orphanages in South Africa.
Painting masks at a Stonehouse drop-in session
Pulse FC team of lads excluded from schools >>
<< Pulse Games Value sessions with pupils at Cranham School
“My Mum thinks it is amazing”
PSALMS is trying to decentralise management to local groups for each scheme/location. This amounts to dozens of regular sessions with hundreds of youngsters. As with similar schemes in secular settings, the examples of leaders/mentors are crucial to gaining respect and commitment from young people, especially those from homes and families under strain and whose schooling has been difficult or interrupted. Ruth Graveling led a six-week Community Sport Leaders training course Nailsworth for such youngsters, three of who became committed Christians. Malcolm said of becoming a leader:
‘[it] was absolutely amazing, something that I couldn’t have saw myself doing a couple of years back’. Trevor reported ‘it has made a huge difference to my life. Like walking down the road, people say to me - I remember you. I have seen you from [location], I have seen you from [activity trip], I know you…and I realise, wow – I must have made an impact on them…. It makes me feel pretty proud as before no-one knew me and I didn’t get out. My mum thinks it is amazing- she’s got all the pictures framed.'
The South Africa trip
Rural mission and service
Most sports schemes are urban, and can draw on youngsters and volunteers from wider catchment areas and larger populations. For us at the University of Gloucestershire, PSALMS is an excellent example of how mission and service can be provided for smaller rural communities, schools and churches spread over a wide rural area, and a model of providing sporting faithful capital to use the term coined by the Churches Commission on Urban Life and Faith (2004).
Chief Medical Officer (2004) At least five a day London: Department of Health
Commission on Urban Life & Faith (2006) Faithful Cities: A call for celebration, vision and justice London: Church House/ Methodist Publishing House
R. Graveling (2013) Effects of a Christian Youth Sport Academy on disengaged young people unpublished MA thesis Gloucester : University of Gloucestershire
N.J. Watson and A. Parker (2013) Sports and Christianity: An introduction London: Routledge