As posted on the Evangelical Alliance website – original link: 

Discover more about how to be a witness while you workout with these reflections from Gym Chaplain Carolyn Skinner

American sports broadcaster Bob Costas once said, ​“The best thing about sports is the sense of community and shared emotion it can create.” We can see the truth of that statement in many ways, whether it’s about following a team, watching a sports game, or even participating in it. There’s no denying that sport is a powerful tool to bring people together.

Throughout the pandemic, exercise has been highlighted as an important factor in keeping ourselves healthy and our immune system strong. Staying active has also been a tremendous aid to maintaining positive mental health. Many people took up a new sport, discovered more of their local area through running or cycling, or switched to doing their classes online with the joys and challenges that exercising via Zoom can bring!

Right now, with summer kicking in and sports clubs and gyms beginning to re-open, many will be keen to get back into a fitness routine again. For some, it will be with the intention of regaining fitness or a physique that they may have lost in lockdown, but there are tonnes of factors that draw people into these environments. Gyms and clubs are more than just places of sport and fitness, they are spaces where people look for a deeper sense of connection, friendship, belonging; a place to de-stress after a long day or week; a place to switch off from the demanding pressures of life; a place to look after their mental wellbeing as well as physical. This is a mission field.

At Sports Chaplaincy UK, our heart is to be an expression of God’s love and compassion in every sporting community. Personally, I love being in exercises classes and at the gym, and I’ve turned that passion into becoming a Gym Chaplain. As I go there prayerfully and intentionally, I find myself taking time to listen to people’s stories and often end up praying with people and sharing hope with them.

Over the last year, I’ve seen more people open up to spiritual issues than ever before. As I’ve met up with gym members or staff for walks and coffees, conversation has easily switched to issues of spirituality and wellbeing. The pandemic has given people time to think more deeply, and it has prompted a lot of questions. It also proved to be a popular idea when I got involved with running a wellbeing course online to connect with people and make space for focussed discussion. I was amazed at the level of vulnerability as we got to know one another in a more meaningful way, seeking out those moments to encourage flourishing, wholeness, and purpose. Spaces like this open up opportunities to offer prayer, share our own experiences of faith, or simply be a kind and loving presence when people need it most.

You don’t have to be a gym chaplain to spot these opportunities to connect with others and witness to Jesus. With a little bit of prayer and intentionality, God will use you in these places. Many people at our sports clubs are more likely to be in a gym or on a pitch on Sunday mornings rather than in a church building, but God is present and at work. The best bit is, He’s inviting us to join in!

If you’re considering whether to renew your gym membership or get back to the sports pitch, then I’d really encourage you to do so. Look for those opportunities to be a listening ear, a non-anxious presence, a person of God’s peace and hope. As we’re all beginning to fill our diaries once again, I encourage you to take a moment to review your commitments and make space to prioritise a regular investment in the world of sport. It will be beneficial on so many levels – body, mind, and spirit – and you may be surprised at the way God uses you in that mission field.