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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sports on Sunday

I don't know about you, but in my community of faith, there are more and more things competing for time on Sunday morning.

To many, the fall season means football, and that no longer means a liesurely Saturday or Sunday afternoon visit with relatives or doing chores around the house. In Chatham, the sports leagues begin in the fifth grade (but in some communities as soon as the fourth grade), fall = football, hockey and soccer.

I'm told there used to be an unwritten rule that no children's sports games ever began before 1 PM on Sunday. Fair enough. Neither do major league games.

When I started here, a little over four years ago, kick off was at noon. This year, the games begin at 10 AM on Sunday. And, if there's an away game, it may mean that the children must be on the field no later than 45 minutes before.

That means, of course, that if a faithful (and courageous) family chooses to come to the 8 AM service, they would not have much family time together before racing to the field to get their kid on the bus.

After several complaints from parents whose kids want to play sports, and, after consultation with my Wardens, Vestry and parents who have coached teams, I wrote an open letter to the Chatham Recreation Center. That letter is posted below.

The email carring that letter was still hot off my computer keys and racing its way over to the email of the Chatham Municiple Building when the Director called me.

She sited three considerations:

1. The schedule is "only" from September to the end of October - "just" 6-8 weeks.
2. The League, not the Chatham Recreation Center, sets the time of the games.
3. The coaches are sternly reminded of the rule that if a child chooses to go to church and is late for the game, they are not to be penalized.

Well, "only" from September to the end of October is really the first week of November, and we all know that this is the beginning of the Program Year for Church School. If a child misses the first eight weeks, s/he's essentially missed most of the first sememster of Christian education.

Would we sanction the same of any subject on school curricula?

"The League" is not them. The League is us. The rules are not the rules unless we assent to them. I'm willing to bet a whole wack of money that if Chatham stood up and said, "We will not discriminate against those who choose to observe their Sabbath. We will not play a game before 1 PM," you would be able to hear the collective sighs of relief of all of the parents in a variety of towns who feel the same way. And, it would change.

The power of one is a formidible force for change.

I applaud the conviction and the commitment of the Recreation Directors and Coaches to make certain that our children are not prejudiced in any way because of their choice to attend church on Sunday - and, we all know that's not the problem. The problem is not on Sunday morning, but Wednesday afternoon in the boys room when some wisenheimer says to the kid, "You GIRL! (which we all know is the MOST offensive thing for a fifth grade boy to call another). You go to church! What a wuz!"

Do we really want to put that kind of additional pressure on our children?

It appears that this is a much bigger kettle of fish than any of us first thought. I'll be talking with my Vestry about the next steps, but I'm thinking that the best way to begin is to call together a group of concerned parents, the Recreational Directors and Coaches, along with League Officials. While we're at it, we might as well invite the Ice Hockey and Soccer officials.

Please leave your comments or contact me at "StPaulsChurch at StPaulsChatham dot com" (I'm told that if I write this in its correct form, I'll be spammed!) if you have had any experience or knowledge that will assist us in this effort. If you are a Chatham Borough or Township resident and want to help organize a community conversation about Sports on Sunday, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Meanwhile, keep us in your prayers.

An Open Letter to the Chatham Board of Recreation

Dear Friends,
I am writing to you as one who shares your concern and the privilege of caring for the health and wellbeing of the residents of the Chathams. As your website states:

“Chatham Recreation is committed to develop, promote, organize, implement and maintain a variety of programs for its residents. They also administer and schedule those programs striving to be the best they can be without compromising other programs in achieving that goal. Goals are achieved through open communication, the establishment of policies, the time hundreds of volunteers share with the communities and the cooperation of the Chatham Borough Council, the Chatham Township Committee and the School District of the Chatham's”

I wish to address your stated goal and responsibility to “administer and schedule” the Sunday morning recreational program for children. I wish to speak specifically to your statement that these programs be conducted “without compromising other programs in achieving that goal.”

I trust we can agree that religious and spiritual education, experience and expression are part of what help to form a whole, healthy human being. Team sports, such as football or soccer, can teach children how to apply their religious values, in whatever particular denomination or expression – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. Values such as respecting the dignity of every human being, peace and justice, as well as fair play, generosity and graciousness – especially in the midst of fierce athletic competition – can find invaluable application in the sports arena.

I fear, however, that your Sunday morning schedule has had a negative effect on our religious schedule. When games and practices are scheduled for 10 AM on Sunday morning (or, for that matter, before 1 PM), it has the effect of prohibiting a large number of children from attending religious education as well as experiencing the worship of God with the rest of their family and faith community.

We talk a great deal, these days and in this country, about “family values” and being “one nation, under God,” but children need the support and modeling of their community in order for these fundamental values to have any authenticity or carry any moral weight.

I am urging you to consider rescheduling our recreational program in such a way that it lives out our own stated goals and does not compromise the religious education and expression of a significant portion of the residents of Chatham.

I believe important lessons of religious tolerance and respectful embrace of the great diversity of our pluralistic culture are best learned by role modeling and applied practice.

I am quite certain that, while my Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, along with our Roman Catholic neighbors (who have alternative times/dates for weekend worship) may not be directly affected by the Sunday morning schedule, they would stand in solidarity with me and others who worship and believe along the broad spectrum of religious traditions.

Indeed, on behalf of the Wardens and Vestry of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul, I would be happy to invite you to an open community meeting to discuss this important issue.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


D. C. said...

Bravo - exactly right.

Rodsberg said...

While I agree with your argument, I also agree with the notion that our kids vote their values just like their parents. The fact that our church kids would rather be just about anywhere other than in church should speak volumes to us. (I'm not suggesting that such is true for St. Paul's simply pointing out my own experience in a wide variety of parishes.) The idea that we (the Church) are somehow entitled to Sunday mornings is long gone. On the down side, it certainly makes things much more complicated. On the up side, maybe it's an opportunity for us to get serious about how we can best serve our youngest members.

In my own parish many parents tell me that I can have only 90 minutes on Sunday morning and that time must include worship as well as education. They won't come early. They won't stay late. And they won't come during the week.

Between your experience and my own, where do we go?, what do we do?

Ann said...

We have had good success with Sunday evening (early) services with a soup supper. A community building worship that meets the needs of tired parents.

GL+ said...

Well done! This has been an issue that has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Thanks for taking a stand.