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When two worlds meet!

Bishop Helen-Ann reflects on her time as Chaplain to the Magic netball team

Over the past few months, I've had the honour of being chaplain to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic netball team.  I used to play netball at school, but the sport doesn't have an especially high profile in the UK, so I hadn't given it much thought until I came to New Zealand.  I had an indication of its relative importance here during a visit I made to the St Paul's Collegiate Tihoi campus.  The co-director of the campus invited me to watch a Diamonds vs Silver Ferns match on TV (that's Australia vs NZ for those not in the know of the sporting names!), and I was quickly hooked!  So when the invitation came to consider supporting the Magic, I said 'yes' without hesitation.  Chaplaincy in this context is very much a ministry of presence.  The incarnational aspect of priesthood asks us so often to simply stand alongside, witnessing to our faith.  So that is what I have done.  I have gone along to training when I can, and been there at home games, where the post-match debrief in the locker room (or shed depending on the term you use) can be uplifting and raw at the same time.  It has been an immense privilege.  I've carried water bottles, the bag of netballs, and even done centre pass during training when they needed someone to help!  But more than anything I've been in a position of learning.  And this has made me reflect on what I have observed and experienced, and how this might translate into the life of the church.  Here are seven points for further thought and reflection:

Firstly, the culture of the team matters.  Something you learn quite quickly is that each netball team has a different personality.  I won't go into too much detail about this, as I don't want to give away what might be described as 'trade secrets'!  However one thing I realised almost immediately with the Magic is that each player always said ‘hello,’ and made me feel welcome.  As an outsider this was incredibly affirming.  As church, how do we welcome the stranger?

Secondly, it's really important both to keep the ball moving, and to treasure it.  Now this might sound like a contradiction, so bear with me while I try to explain it as best I can!  In a game of netball you have three seconds before you have to pass the ball on.  Three seconds is actually longer than you might think.  But you need to be strategic about where you pass the ball!  The ball needs to be kept in the team's possession (you don't want what's called a 'turn over' to occur where the opposition intercepts and takes the ball), but it also needs to keep moving towards the goal area as quickly as you can!  As church, how good are we at treasuring our inheritance while at the same time keeping it moving?  

Thirdly, and related to the second point is the frequency of the word 'hustle.'  I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard the word 'hustle' shouted from the side-lines by the coaches!  It means 'get a move on'; don't be lethargic, lift your game!  I have been tempted to use the word when processions of choir and clergy seem to be stuck (as Bishop I am always last in the line!).  As church, how do we respond when we seem stuck in our ways, unable to move?  One of the things that strikes you when you read Mark's Gospel, is the frequency of the word 'immediately'!  Mark is in a hurry to tell his story, and I wonder sometimes how eager we really are to witness to the good news about Jesus Christ?

Fourthly, it's really important to focus on one game at a time.  Every game counts, so a loss is a loss, you can't dwell on it, but must immediately switch your focus to preparing for the next game.  Equally if you win, that game also is the in past, and the next game is like starting all over again.  As church, how good are we at focusing on one project at a time?  How able are we to move on from failure?

Fifthly, when things go wrong, you don't point the finger of blame at one person, rather you figure out how the team can all work together to make things better.  That doesn't need much explanation, but it represents a fundamental learning point for the church.  How often do we rush to a culture of blame, rather than deciding to tackle challenging situations positively together?

Sixthly, there's a fine line between becoming resigned to loss, and thinking you can still push for the win.  At a certain point in a game, the goal margin between the teams can begin to widen.  The crucial thing here is for the team to consciously keep playing as if they could win.  In netball if you come within five points of the opposition at the end of the game, you still secure a point, and that can have a crucial effect on where a team sits in the results table.  I've spent a bit of time in conversation with the High Performance Sport Psychologist, and he helped me understand the importance of this insight.  It's basically saying 'don't give up'!  As church, are we too quick to give up sometimes?

Finally, every person matters in the team: the players, the coaches, the physio, the trainer, the video analyst, the manager, the friends and families.  Each person is valued.  Again, I don't need to say much more than that!  In our church communities, how do we value the gifts and skills that we bring to the table?

Some of these insights above are echoed in the widely read book about the All Blacks written by James Kerr: Legacy. What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, 2013, Constable.  I’d recommend taking a look at that book if you are interested in building on what these reflections above might teach us.

As the netball season draws into its final weeks, I’ve been incredibly grateful for the opportunity to gain insights into another world.  The world of sport might seem far from that of the church, but as the above suggests, we have much to learn from it.  Equally, through the conversations that I have had with players and staff, perhaps they have learnt something about the way in which the church can support and uphold people and celebrate the gifts that God has given them.

Story Published: 12th of June - 2017

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