Changing times

I’ve never been what one would describe as a big sports fan. I enjoy watching games, especially when I know some of the players. I’ve attended my share of high school sports events and cheered for local teams. I’ve been to a few professional baseball games. I’ve watched my share of college and professional basketball on television. I know enough about hockey to enjoy a game from time to time. And I learned some of the rules of soccer when our children participated in youth games. I am not opposed to sports, but it hasn’t been the focus of my life.

Years ago, when we were serving our first parish, the playoff games leading up to the super bowl were generally held on Sunday mornings and I’d try to check the score between the two church services that we led so that I could engage in intelligent conversation with church members during the coffee hour following worship. I remember one time that I checked the score just before going into the pulpit and part way through the service, when I was making announcements, I announced the score. A church member updated my announcement, saying that one of the teams had just scored another time. He received quite a bit of teasing about listening to his radio during the worship service.

Having had that experience, I wonder if there will be anyone who will be checking the score on the Women’s World Cup match this morning. The Match begins at 9 a.m. local time and our worship service starts at 9:30. With cell phones and wi-fi in our sanctuary, it would be pretty easy for someone to keep up with the game. Since I’m really not that big of a fan, I won’t mind waiting until after worship to check up on the match.

It has been interesting to witness the rise in the popularity of soccer over the span of the last couple of decades. Most pundits agree that the US Women’s team is more popular and better known than the Men’s team. The success of the women, which includes three World Cup championships and could well include a fourth after today, has been impressive.

In general organized sports seem to have become a higher priority for many people than once was the case. 35 years ago a youth in our church was faced with a difficult decision. He wanted to attend a church youth rally, but doing so would mean missing a key practice for his football team. He spoke with the coach about his dilemma, but got no hope. “If you miss the practice,” the coach informed him, “you won’t be suiting up for the game.” He was a key member of the team. His teammates counted on him. But he also really wanted to participate in the youth event. I tried to figure out an accommodation, but waiting until after the practice would mean that the entire youth group would miss out on the opening events of the rally. I spoke to the coach, but he offered no compromise. In the end the youth missed the practice and went to the church youth rally. The coach backed down. He needed the player to win the game.

That wouldn’t happen today. Youth sports, especially soccer, demand a higher level of commitment from players than church activities. I can’t remember another case of a youth choosing church over sports in my entire career. And the youth in our church have the support of their families in making such decisions. When soccer or volleyball or other sports conflict with church, virtually all of the families with youth in our church will choose sports over church activities.

I believe it is a reflection of the role of religion in the wider culture. People don’t put the institutional church and its regular services very high on their list of priorities. They will attend when it is convenient, but they don’t worry about missing when there is something else to do.

Because I have lived in the church all of my life and made church the center of all of my activities, I don’t really understand the thinking of folks. Nonetheless, I have been called to serve those very people who have different priorities than mine.

Of course the World Cup is being played in France, where the time is eight hours ahead of Rapid City. It will be 5 pm in France when the game begins. Still, I suspect that for the players and fans, the match is the big event of their days. I doubt if any have made plans to attend church before heading to the game.

Like it or not we have to learn to serve people in the midst of the lives that they lead. I’ve learned to pay attention to sports and sports schedules because those things are important to the people I serve.

We kick of our big week tomorrow with Vacation Bible School at our church. That program has changed greatly over the years as well. For many years we have been holding an evening program, starting with a supper meal and running our program to 8 pm. The main reason for shifting away from daytime programs is the issue of recruiting volunteers. We could get plenty of children during the day, but the more children, the more volunteers it takes to staff the program. Several of the churches in our community have gone to paid staff, hiring the staff of church camps and YouthWorks and other service groups to staff their VBS programs. We have remained with volunteers from our church. So our program runs evenings. A few years ago we shortened our program by one day because attendance was so light on Friday evening. We couldn’t really run our program with most of the children and volunteers gone. And you can bet that the folks who are not available on Friday won’t be coming back for church on Sunday morning, either. So we try to run the best four day program we can.

We could spend our time complaining about how much things have changed, and I guess this journal entry is doing just that, but we are called to service in the midst of the realities of our time. Who knows what the church will look like 20 or 30 years from now? It will be different. May we continue to be faithful as we change with the times.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!