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02 March, 2016

SPORTS VS. CHURCH IN BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

When I was a young fellow I found myself in a real bind. I had started to play organized baseball and games were played on virtually every Sunday, May to September. The problem was that in those days recreational activities of any kind on The Lord's Day were very much frowned on, in fact if you were a practicing Christian it was considered a sin.

The Lord's Day Alliance, formed by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists in 1888 to protect the sacredness of Sunday in Canada, was still a force to be reckoned with in the 1940s and '50s. I well remember that there was a 12-midnight curfew for Saturday dances and that in some communities no inning of a baseball game could start 10 minutes before the bewitching hour of 12:00 a.m.

My mother and father were staunch Presbyterians and it was only because of illness that I would miss attending Sunday School and the worship services that followed. At 16 years of age I even became a Sunday School teacher, so my formative years were firmly entrenched in Church and Christian beliefs and practices.

So it was without the blessing of my mother (my father had passed away) and struggling with pangs of guilt on one hand and a burning passion for the game of baseball on the other, that I began to venture onto the playing field with mixed emotions on Sabbath afternoons. Looking back, I always felt that I did not play my best on Sundays and if I had a bad game, or committed an error, I was convinced that God was penalizing me for playing baseball on His day of rest.

Boy, have times changed in the intervening 60 years. What pained and compromised me as a young athlete, families do not give a second thought today.  When you think of Sunday today, one of two things likely come to mind. Perhaps you think of going to church with your family, like you may do every Sunday. However, there are other activities that take place approximately five months out of the year that captivate a huge percentage of North Americans -- golf, football, fishing and baseball, to name only a few of the weekend distractions. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that sports in general are better at bringing people together than church ever was.


It is really not surprising people feel this way. When you go to a football or baseball game, for instance, suddenly you are best friends with tens of thousands of other people in the stadium. These people don’t care about your gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. All they care about is that you are supporting the same team. It is a bond that can last for life. It sounds silly, but it’s amazing the extent to which mutual support for a team can draw people together.

Today, more people than ever before are choosing not to attend church. Maybe they simply don’t enjoy it, or maybe they haven’t been accepted into a church because of their lifestyle. There are a lot of different lifestyles that certain denominations have trouble with. One of the most common is the refusal to accept members of the Gay community or views on contraception and abortion. Many religions teach that homosexuality, condoms, and abortions are sins, and that can be ostracizing to some. Thankfully, there are plenty of churches who accept people for who they are.

Watching and playing games on Sunday afternoons can be a great escape. Whether you are watching from home, physically at the game or participating in a recreational activity, it is a wonderful way to forget about the everyday stresses of life, including work, health, and personal relationships. Going to church does not necessarily do that for people. While some might find comfort in going to church and having people pray over them, it can also be a great source of anxiety.
One of the most widely watched television events is the Super Bowl. Even those who do not care about sports attend Super Bowl parties, even if it’s just an excuse to get together with friends. Companies spend millions of dollars just to get a 30 second commercial that will air during the Super Bowl. In fact, it is now expected that the commercials you see during the game will be the best you see all year. Why do advertisers put so much money and energy into these commercials? Because they know they have a larger audience now than they will at any other point in the year. The Super Bowl and Grey Cup bring the American and Canadian people together for one Sunday every year – it is a massive cultural event comparable only to the World Cup in terms of popularity.

While I can take or leave football, some people really do enjoy the game that much. However, some may do it because it is a distraction from everything else they are dealing with. They might feel the most accepted when they are supporting their team on Sunday afternoons, so they have thrown themselves into it completely. In the past, this was a central function of church services. In some ways, sports have supplanted that.

Even though churches are left competing with sports for attention on Sundays, church still does have its place. There are many people who are committed to their faith and those who will put their beloved sport on hold to attend a church service. Still, it’s interesting to think about how much more accepted people might feel watching or playing a game.

Personally, I do not attend church services anymore, but it has nothing to do with acceptance or a preference for sports...It goes much deeper than that and I might write about it some day, when I'm ready.

In retrospect, I am still in that moral bind of my youth.  It has just taken on a different perspective.

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