‘It’s all part of the game’

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NHL players address B.C. youth about their faith . . . and violence in hockey

February 12, 2014 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

Nashville Predators players Nick Spaling and Mike Fisher are famous for their hockey careers, but what many may not know is that they are also Christians eager to speak about their faith.

So when they travelled to Vancouver to face off against the Canucks last month, they spent time answering questions about their faith at a Mennonite Church Canada event at Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond.

MC Canada executive director Willard Metzger, who served as Spaling’s pastor at Community Mennonite Fellowship in Drayton, Ont., when Spaling was growing up, interviewed the players about their personal lives, their hockey careers and their faith at a “Faith and Hockey” event on Jan. 22.

Both Spaling and Fisher started playing hockey at a young age. When they were young, they found it difficult to talk about their faith with their teammates.

“Growing up in juniors . . . there are a lot of kids and you’re trying to be cool, and it was tough,” Spaling said, adding, “Nobody was outspoken about it, so you didn’t know if there were other Christians that played and everyone just wanted to fit in and not be out of the norm.”

Now they feel more comfortable talking about their religious beliefs, and Fisher has even coordinated a monthly chapel for other Christian players.

“There’s a lot of distractions in our lives and a lot of easy ways out,” Spaling said. “A lot of times it’s easy to do something else instead, but a big focus for me is making time. . . . It’s helped me be stronger in my faith and going forward in the game.”

Although the youth and young adults all seemed star-struck, not everyone was thrilled with their responses.

When asked by Canadian Mennonite how he reconciles his Anabaptist faith with his career in a violent sport, Spaling said it’s all part of the game. “I don’t know if it’s a really violent sport, but there’s the fighting aspect,” he acknowledged. “It would be good to note that I’ve had no fights in the NHL, so that’s impressive. . . . But [fighting] is something that’s part of the game and can’t really be taken out.”

“I look at some guys that I’ve fought and I think there’s a respect level there,” Fisher added. “We know it’s a part of the game, but after, everything’s fine and there’s no anger towards each other for the most part.”

Keith Grubaugh, 30, of the host church felt Spaling’s answer was irresponsible, given that he is a role model for young people. “Somebody that is latching on to the Mennonite theology and Anabaptist theology should be more proactive about taking fighting out of the game,” Grubaugh said.

After the interview, Fisher and Spaling signed autographs and gave away door prizes.

For the two organizers of the event, Brittani and Jon Gifford of Peace Mennonite, the event was an opportunity for youth and young adults to see what it’s like for celebrity Christians.

“I hope they were encouraged by someone who is living in the limelight who is also living out their faith,” Jon said.

Together, Metzger and Spaling have organized various events to talk about being a Mennonite in the spotlight. Spaling was involved in one of Mennonite Church Canada’s “Mennonites are Everywhere” videos, and they give talks together at Mennonite camps across Canada. They are hoping to host a similar event at Camp Squeah in Hope, B.C. this summer.

The Faith and Hockey event was also a fundraising opportunity for Mennonite Church Canada Witness projects in the Philippines. According to MC Canada, the Richmond event raised nearly $800, which will be used to build the burgeoning PeaceChurch Philippines congregation in metro Manila and help with disaster relief after Super Typhoon Haiyan.

--Posted Feb. 12, 2014

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