Sports chaplaincy Q&A with Bruce Nadin — JP Flugel

JP Flugel

Good day my fellow sports enthusiasts and welcome to Team Talk.

Today’s edition is a topic that is very close to my heart and that is sports chaplaincy. You are probably wondering what sports chaplaincy is. We invite you into the sheds today to explore this exciting ministry.

I, myself, am a trained sports chaplain. I did my training and accreditation through Sports Chaplaincy South Africa, also known as SCZA.

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I caught up with Bruce Nadin, who is the director. Bruce is an avid Leicester City FC fan. Ye, I know, I also didn’t know they had any until I met Bruce. Just kidding! Leicester City FC are an incredible side that have overcome all odds in recent years and won the Premier League in the 2015/16 season.

If you do not follow football but love inspiring sports stories then I suggest you check them out. Well worth it. Enjoy our Q & A with Bruce — it too, is truly inspiring.

Bruce Nadin, left, with Cape Town Spurs technical and back room staff after MTN8 cup final win in 2015

Tell us where you are from and a bit about your family?

I’m originally from Leicester – a small but diverse multi-ethnic city in the centre of England. It’s a place few had heard of until a few years ago when the citiy’s football club famously won the English Premier League (at odds of 5000-1). It’s the nearest thing that elite sport has ever got to a miracle. When people ask me where I’m from these days it’s usually the first thing people remark on! People have heard of Leicester now! That’s the power and profile of sport!!

I’m blessed to have been married to Louise for 32 years. We met at a church youth club in the middle of a council estate on the edge of Leicester when we were teenagers. She is a medical doctor presently working with Beautiful Gate in Philipi in Cape Town where she coordinates their Paediatric/Youth HIV programme. I have two daughters. Our eldest lives in the UK where she works for an NPO and our youngest is about to commence her honours in pharmacology at Stellenbosch University, having just completed her bachelor’s in biochemistry at UCT.

 So Bruce, how did you come to know the Lord?

My Mum came to Christ when she was expecting me. As a result, myself and youngest sister grew up in the church. However, by the time I was 13 I was doing well academically and competing at a high level in my age group in both cricket (I was a fast bowler) and athletics (800m). I arrogantly believed that the world was my oyster! The whole God thing was for people who needed a prop, and I didn’t need one!!

At 15 God, in His grace, allowed me to get ill. I went from being a fit and highly active teenager to having zero energy. I wasn’t properly diagnosed by our family doctor and it transpired later that I had glandular fever. By the beginning of 1983 I had missed 15 months of school and was in a very dark space. One evening I went to have a bath in the dark. I couldn’t look at myself. I was contemplating taking my life. As I sat in the bath, full of self-loathing and hopelessness, a presence filled the room. I didn’t hear a voice but as I filled the bath with tears of sorrow and desperation God filled my heart with purpose. In the following days I told no one but began to read the Bible my Mum had given me. I knew as I read the Gospels that Jesus had come to me that evening. There was no other way to explain the powerful sense of love, joy, peace and hope that enveloped and filled me.

Christian spirituality however, is much more than just a personal experience. God began to change my heart by His Spirit and renew my mind through His Word. God began to deal with my racism and show me His heart for the oppressed and the poor. I believe that if you have connected with Jesus, then you will have God’s heart for justice. It’s a real test of the authenticity of our faith. As Tim Keller says: “Love for justice is the grand symptom of real faith.”

With Ghanian international Daniel Amartey at Leicester’s training ground

 What exactly is sports chaplaincy? 

The central goal of sports chaplaincy is to offer Kingdom-centred care and mentorship to people of all faiths and none, by permission. Sports chaplains are always guests. People often ask me how I go about that. I suspect they anticipate that I offer some sophisticated programme of support for players and staff. The reality is that I primarily “hang around with intent”. The intention is to hang around the club building relationships of trust so that staff, coaches and players know that they have safe space to offload, share struggles, ask questions, seek guidance and I can offer prayer when invited. It’s a highly pressurised industry where your performance determines your future. The chaplain is uniquely positioned to offer that safe space because we aren’t involved in destiny decisions that impact people’s professional futures (e.g. team selection, contract renewal…).

 What has impacted you the most about being a sports chaplain? 

I have been privileged to come alongside hundreds of sports people over the past 15 years and in the context of real relationship have been able to build into their lives. Of course, the greatest blessing is seeing sports people surrender to Christ, build their identity in Him and discover God’s purpose for their life and sport. There’s nothing better than joining Jesus where He’s already at work. It’s definitely been one of the great insights I’ve learned in sports chaplaincy. It’s not so much that I carry Christ with me (although there’s truth in that), but that I get to join Him in what he is already doing. Knowing that gives me great confidence that simply by praying up and showing up I can partner with Jesus to see lives changed.

Braai with players at Bruce Nadin’s house

You were the chaplain for Leicester City FC. What really stood out the most to you about your time there? 

Many things, but probably the greatest is how the Body of Christ needs to become less programme-based and more missional in its approach. I was leading a growing church just outside Leicester at the time. We were doing some good stuff and God was blessing the church. However, my time at the football club made me realise how much our churches are separated from the rest of society. We need to do more to equip God’s people to serve where they are in their everyday lives, and we need to release more of our people and leadership resources to serve outside the building. God is waiting for us to be present where He’s already at work! That invites a radical reorientation of vision and priorities for us as the Body of Christ.

You are currently the chaplain for Cape Town Spurs FC. What does a week generally look like for you? 

I’m not sure any week is typical as you never know exactly what might crop up. 

I tend to show up at the training ground twice a week. One morning might involve an early arrival to spend time in God’s Word and prayer with a coach. I will then hang around with the players at breakfast and in the changing room just sharing life and getting immersed in their world. It’s a lot of fun, but the relational aspect builds trust so that guys feel able to talk to you about what is going on in their lives. It’s a very natural process. I will then go down to the physio area and see who is injured or spend time checking in with the guys in rehab. These are often the times when conversations can go deeper. Injury rehab can be a very lonely space and sports people often get into very dark spaces. Sports chaplains can play a vital role at a time like this when its easy for an athlete to feel alone. Some of my best conversations have taken place in these moments. I know that my presence is valued greatly.

I might then catch up on emails or arrange a coffee catch up with someone whilst the guys are training, or I might watch some of the training. After training I will be hanging around again. Once per week I will meet with some of the players for Bible study or have a coffee catch-up with a player or coach.

On home match days I’m privileged to have access all areas. I usually get to pray with the team pre-match and am available for one-on-one encouragement. I will often be invited to say a few words after a game too.

 How many accredited chaplains are serving Sports Chaplaincy SA? 

Just over 30 serving in a variety of sporting codes and contexts from elite to schools and grassroots. However, we have huge opportunities, especially in soccer in Cape Town. The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. We need more people to come forward to volunteer as sports chaplains.

What are the criteria and the pathway to become a sports chaplain with Scza? 

The first step is to attend our two-day training. We are likely to hold in-person training later next year when we are on top of the virus in Cape Town, East London, Port Elizabeth and Gauteng. We also offer an online option via Zoom. We then invite those who wish to explore a call into this ministry to complete an application form. This is followed by  an accreditation interview to explore this call. 

 What is the vision for Scza? 

Pretty simple really. We exist to identify, train, appoint and resource sports chaplains so that every sports person in South Africa has contact with a sports chaplain. Sport is one of the biggest harvest fields in our nation. We need to be present in it!!

Bruce baptising Bafana Bafana and Bidvest Wits goalkeeper Brandon Petersen

In closing, what bit of wisdom can you impart to athletes, coaches, managers and even sports fans?

For fans, it’s simple. Remember that sports people are real human beings. Be especially careful what you say and how you comment on social media.

To players and coaches etc, my message is straight forward: discover an identity that is multi-faceted. The world will relate to you just as a sports person. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that what you do is who you are! But you are so much more than your sporting ability. Ultimately the only true sense of self and your place in the world can be found in Christ!

Where to get more info
Thank you Bruce for your inspiring testimony, insight and understanding of sports chaplaincy. If any of you would like to explore this fulfilling ministry, please email me, JP, at fusionsportsministry@gmail.com or alternatively visit our website at www.sportschaplaincy.org.za and like Liverpool, the second best club in the world, you too shall never walk alone. Viva Man United. Yes, sports writers definitely have their favourites and so do chaplains. But in the end we love and serve all athletes just as Christ died for all. For Christ has no favourites. The final whistle has blown on our 2020 season of Team Talk. Its only been three months but that is about the same amount of game time most teams have had this year. May you and your family have a blessed Christmas and a prosperous new year. See you in January 2021 for a new, full season of Team Talk.

God bless.   

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