From the Rev: Losing Wells
No, the post title isn’t a typo. For the past three seasons, Wells Thompson has played as a midfielder for the Colorado Rapids. But Thompson is not so much known for his on the field contributions (75 appearances, 40 starts, 5 goals, 4 assists), but for his work in the community and with fans. Vocal about his faith in Jesus Christ, Thompson was a player who was a regular at the team bible study (or CoreTraining) and also in living out his faith. He was the kind of person to take extra time to pack up team lunch leftovers and distribute it to the homeless living near the stadium. He made visits to the local rescue mission to play soccer with the homeless children. He volunteered for many of the team appearances at local hospitals. And did much, much more. Some have likened Thompson to the “Tim Tebow” of Major League Soccer – even to the degree that he wore the same number 15 as Tebow when he played in Denver for the Broncos.
The day the trade of Wells Thompson to Chicago was announced my phone seemed to beep constantly with texts and notes from friends saying that they had heard the news of the trade and expressing some words of comfort. One of the most interesting for me to reflect on was a short text which simply read, “Sorry you’re losing Wells.” Losing Wells, as I paused to consider the different implications of the trade and the words of comfort that others were trying to give there were a few things that I felt I might share from being a team chaplain for the past 11 seasons.
1. Constant Change – Chaplains must always be ready and prepared for the movement of people in professional sport. Earlier this year, for one of our chaplain training presentations, I looked at the average time span for the various roles and personnel on a team (Colorado Rapids as a sample). For players, the average length of stay on the team is somewhere between 2-3 years. Coaches average around 4 years and front office or administrative personnel are anywhere from 1-8 years depending on the type of position (i.e. ticket sales vs. General Managers). Essentially, there are a lot of moving pieces and parts and it can be hard to develop relationships and even more difficult when those people move on – which is common place in professional sports. As a chaplain on a professional team, there is a constant saying “hello” and “goodbye” – sometimes within weeks of one another. Chaplains in sport must be ready to use each and every opportunity and interaction to a full degree, knowing that change is constant.
2. Reason for the Season – Chaplains must also be open to the sovereignty of God in bringing people (from fans to players to coaches to administrators) into our paths for particular moments and seasons. For a player like Wells, God might have brought him to Colorado to grow in specific ways and areas. These might be as different as professional, emotional, spiritual, and relational ways but in all of them God is working to develop people and God places different people in our lives to encourage and help them grow in different ways and for different reasons. Believing that God has a special plan for Wells’ life (and countless hundreds others who have been through Colorado’s doors), I can rest assured as a chaplain that God is preparing Wells for the next stage and chapter and that his time here in Colorado will have been a part of that wonderful story.
3. Grieving Losses – It would be disingenuous for me to say that I have no sadness about losing Wells (or other players in the past). And it would be unwise and unhealthy to try and tell myself that I don’t need to grieve or mourn those losses when they happen. But, in truth, as a chaplain many times we walk with players, coaches, and staff who have deeper griefs. As we chaplain and companion them, we often try to carry or help carry their grief as well. Sometimes that grief may be directly tied into the very place where a player is. Some players grieve that they are so far from family or friends or familiarity that when a trade eventually does happen there is a sense of relief (for player and chaplain). Other times, people desire more fulfillment in their work or vocational setting (especially when fighting for opportunities) and so a move can actually be an encouraging time (for the chaplain and the player/coach/staff member) because a new opportunity is open to them with many new possibilities.
A value for myself as a chaplain and part of my own vision for CrossTraining, is that we will remain influencers long after the people whom God brings to our teams have gone. A book which influenced some of this was Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul. In the book, Tony Hendra describes a monk who had profound influence on his life through many different life stages and crises. To be a staying presence for the men and their families that come through the doors at the Colorado Rapids into the years and paths that lie beyond is a special privilege and sometimes takes a lot of work. But it is worth it – to be able to speak into someone’s life.
And thus, at least for this chaplain, when people tell me today, “sorry about losing Wells” I can tell them without any hesitation “It is well with my soul.”
Rev. Brad Kenney