From the Rev: Bless Everything, Let God Guard the Consequences
I recently returned from a trip to the U.K. and conference with chaplains with Sports Chaplaincy UK. SCUK (formerly known as SCORE) was founded by Rev John Boyers who continues to serve as chaplains for Manchester United Football Club. In the last 10+ years, I have had occasion to attend conference with the football (soccer) chaplains a number of times. They have been forging ahead in post-Christian UK context for years now and have established a foundation of trust and pastoral care and support for many sports in the UK including both ability and disability sports.
In my devotions for 10 October, my readings in Celtic Daily Prayer point to the life and work of St Ninian. Ninian, a British Christian, studied in Rome but heard of the work that St Martin and his disciples were accomplishing in Tours, France. He journeyed there to learn of what Martin was undertaking it and returned to his home country of Britain to put it into practice.
One of Ninian’s practices might be summed up in the phrase:
Bless everything, and let God guard the consequences.
In the years that I have practiced chaplaincy in and amongst the soccer community, this has become a learned pattern. From blessing elite athletes as they go out into competitive matches and endeavors, to praying for an injured player, to supporting a family devastated by news of a trade or a contract release, to attempting to bring reconciliation between a coach and an executive — as a chaplain we are often called into spaces where we must bless everything and let God guard the consequences.
But can we really bless everything?
I recall the charge leveled at me from Rev Brad Strait at my ordination. From the text of Hosea 14:4,
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.
The words of the Lord toward the nation of Israel. The words of a Father toward his wayward children. The charge of one minister to another. Rev Strait put it straightforward,
Love them freely and heal their waywardness.
As a perfectionist and as one who grew up in a more legalistic religious tradition, grace and love have been an edge for me to learn. But with great compassion, as I live in and amongst the football community I am growing constantly in learning what it means to look for the healing and loving moments.
As a chaplain, we bless what we are able to. We bless all that we can — all that we can see, be it ever so small. Even within each athlete, coach, staff member, executive, owner, family member, or fan we can even simply see the imago dei within a person. We bless everything — the work, the spirit of the game or play, the sharpening edge of one person to another. God guards the outcomes of the games, of the presence of a chaplain, the words and direction of a counselor, all of it.
When we allow God to guard the consequences we submit to the sovereignty and design of God. In soccer, one of the phrases that coaches and commentators will use is don’t chase the game. It is a similar thought to a chaplain’s surrender of the outcomes — when we go chasing a result we grow weary and unable to clearly see our own role as a chaplain in ministry. Of course, there are outcomes that come from the presence and work of a chaplain, but when a chaplain forces or tries to direct the outcomes in a particular fashion is usually when things go awry and the chaplain loses their ability to be a safe, trustworthy presence.
As chaplains, we need to let go of desired outcomes. In the course of our service, we should continue to apply ourselves to the work at hand. The outcomes, guarded and guided by God, will come.
— Rev Brad Kenney