The Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity

The historic and beautiful city of York, England was the site for the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity (IGCSC) held from August 24-28, 2016. The IGCSC was hosted by the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at York St John University and convened by Dr. Nick Watson. This was truly a ‘global’ event as there were 178 delegates from 24 different nations.

The Congress started off with a Gala Dinner on the evening of the 24th and was followed by the first keynote lecture of the week, given by Dr. Tony Campolo. Dr. Campolo entertained the delegates with his humor, wit, and energy. He spoke on “Sport: Recreation or Religious Idolatry?” and used a sociological framework to show allow us to see how religion functions and how easily it is for sport to sneak into a role of role that it shouldn’t which leads to idolatry.

Thursday morning brought the second keynote lecture, given by Dr. Brian Bolt. Bolt’s presentation was on “A Declaration on Sport and the Christian Life: A Call to Action.” Dr. Bolt highlighted some key points from the recent Declaration on Sport and the Christian Life, a twelve point document outlining sport and Christianity, and the role that it has in our lives as sport participants.

In between keynote lectures and coffee breaks were ‘Parallel Sessions’ in which delegates presented in small classrooms. These sessions were 20 minutes in length, which often provided ample time to present then have a few short questions afterwards. The most difficult thing was trying to figure out which session to go to, as there were often about eight sessions going on during each 2o minute time slot.

Thursday’s second keynote lecture (and third overall) was given by Dr. Robert Johnston titled “Sport, Culture, and Christianity: Reflections on the Theology of Play and Beyond.” Dr. Johnston has expertise in the area of Christianity and play due to his book The Christian at Play (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), which has been influential to many in the field of sport and Christianity. Dr. Johnston called us to question the roles of culture and sport and whether or not they should be engaged by the Christian.

After drinking some more coffee, Thursday’s Congress schedule came to an end when delegates heard from four key pioneering organizations. The four organizations were: (1) Vatican Church and Sport Office, (2) Center for the Study of Religion and Sport, (3) the Christian Society for Kinesiology and Leisure Studies (CSKLS), and (4) Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Delegates were able to learn what each organization is about.

The IGCSC provided plenty of opportunities to learn, but there was also some time for play and exploring York. Delegates were given Thursday evening off, which allowed for many to explore the beautiful city of York. York St John University was only a short walk from City Centre, which was where hundreds of shops and historic sites lay. Sites to see (and experience) included York Minster, the Shambles Market, the River Ouse, Clifford Tower, the city walls of York, and so much more!

The fourth keynote lecture was given Friday morning by Dr. John Swinton. It was titled “Running for Jesus! The Virtues and Vices of Disability and Sport.” Dr. Swinton began by mentioning the ‘dissonance’ around sport. Basically, we see one thing but experience another. How one views and portrays Jesus plays into how they imagine sport and what sport is supposed to be. It is easy to view Jesus as a Superman on the football field, towering over others, but isn’t that a tendency of humans? To ‘create’ God in our image? Ultimately, Dr. Swinton encouraged delegates to attempt to remove the dissonance we have in mind when it comes to sport and instead to see athletics in a more Christ-centered way.

Following Dr. Swinton’s lecture, delegates were given the chance to attend ‘Thematic Strands.’ There were twelve strands all occurring at the same time, but delegates were above to attend and leave each strand as they wished. Each strand lasted for three hours. Topics in these strands included: (1) Sports Chaplaincy, (2) Sports, Peace, and Religion, (3) Theology of Disability Sport, (4) Fathering and Mentoring through Sports and Physical Education, (5) Women, Sports, and Christianity, (6) Sports Ministry, (7) Historical Perspectives on Sports and Christianity, (8) Catholicism and Sports, (9) Ethical and Social Issues in Sports: Christian Reflections, (10) Christian Sociological Perspectives on Sport, (11) Sport, Christianity, Health and Well-Being/Wellness, (12) Sport, Psychology, and Christianity.

The afternoon keynote was given by the Rev. John Boyers. His lecture was titled “Sports Chaplaincy in the 21st Century: Reflections on Serving Manchester United FC (1992-2016).” Rev. Boyers reflected on his role as chaplain for the football club and what all it entailed. As chaplain, he was not to evangelize like most would think, but instead be there to comfort and care for struggling players. The lives of professional athletes are often tainted with addictions and issues, as well as severe stress to perform well or overcome an injury quicker. By being a confidant and comforter for players, Rev. Boyers was able to show Christ through his actions.

A highlight to the IGCSC was Friday evening’s ‘Sport Themed Service’ held at the famed York Minster. Delegates were welcomed inside the cathedral doors to an expansive and awe-inspiring center for worship. The liturgy consisted of songs, prayers, and a sermon. The service was followed by interviews with ex-English Premier League footballer, Linvoy Primus MBE and ex-Paralympian Anne-Wafula Strike MBE.

Saturday morning, Dr. Afe Adogame lectured on “The Intermix of Sports and Christianity in Africa and the African Diaspora.” Dr. Adogame explored ways in which sport and Christianity were experienced in Africa and the effect of the African Diaspora on sport.

The next keynote lecture was given by Bishop James Jones. His lecture was titled “The Hillsborough Football Disaster 1989: Reflections from Bishop James Jones who as Bishop of Liverpool chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel.” Bishop Jones told of the process for the panel in the case of the Hillsborough disaster which killed 96 people and injured 766 others.

Saturday evening consisted of a Bible Society Panel Discussion. The panelists were Dr. Lincoln Harvey, Dr. Valerie Gin, Dr. Tony Campolo, and Dr. Andrew Parker. Each panelist was asked questions regarding their field of expertise (theology, ethics, sociology, and sports ministry). There were pre-fabricated questions as well as a few questions from the audience.

Sunday was a busy day as the Congress came to a close. There were four keynote lectures, as well as closing remarks from our convener, Dr. Nick Watson. The morning keynote was given by Graham Daniels, who is the Director of Christians in Sport, UK. His lecture was titled “Practitioner Reflections on Sport and Faith: Ministry and Chaplaincy in and through Sport.” He spoke of work being done in sport chaplaincy and progress that has been made.

The mid-morning keynote was given via video by Dr. Michael Novak. He spoke on “The Joy of Sports (1967): Reflections on a Seminal Text and Beyond.” Dr. Novak addressed his book The Joy of Sports and reflected on things such as the Catholic and Protestant view on sport, rites and liturgies of sport, and reminded delegates that sport is not all of life.

The afternoon keynote was given by Anne-Wafula Strike MBE. She was a Paralympian in the 2004 Paralympic Games. Her lecture was titled “Paralympics and the Christian Faith: A Story of Hope from Africa to England on Wheels.” Anne challenged delegates not to think of people as ‘disabled’ but rather as ‘differently abled.’ This allows one to see another human being not for what they cannot do, but for what they can do.

The last keynote was given by Cassie Carstens on “Fatherlessness, Fatherhood and Faith: Reflections on the Redemptive Role of Sport.” Cassie introduced to delegates that the biggest issues often involve the family and the lack of a father figure. He also stated that the way to transform culture and society is through the family because the culture won’t change unless the family is transformed. Sport has the power to be redemptive if it is understood in the context that it is holistic and part of life.

Dr. Nick Watson wrapped up the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity by thanking all the staff, York St John University, and his wife for their support in making such a wonderful event. He then announced that the Second Global Congress on Sports and Christianity will be held October 23-27, 2019 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. The convener will be Dr. Brian Bolt.

Many thanks to Dr. Watson on hosting the Inaugural Global Congress on Sports and Christianity.


Congress pictures below are courtesy of Neil Urquhart.





















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