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Serving both God and the Demons

30 Nov 2010

Serving both God and the Demons Image

By Alison Kinkade

Football may long have been called the religion of Victorians and the MCG and Etihad Stadium, a place of worship … but you probably wouldn’t know that in amongst it all there are some very dedicated chaplains and one of them is working amongst us here in Docklands.

Meet Etihad Stadium-based chaplain Cameron Butler who, since 2003, has been serving the sporting community as the CEO of Sports Chaplaincy Australia and is also the chaplain for the Melbourne Football Club.

Cameron joined Sports Chaplaincy Australia, the leading organisation for providing chaplains to high-performance, development and local sports organisations, in the 1990s and has never looked back.

After becoming ordained in 1990 and taking up the role of a local church pastor, Cameron started to look for a change in the mid 1990s. But it wasn’t till 1997 that he took up his role at the Demons after receiving a phone call about sports chaplaincy.

“It was a great offer which meant I could fulfil my two loves in life – serving God and sport. It’s just ironic that I’m the chaplain to the Demons,” Cameron said.

Working in IT and volunteering as a sports chaplain for about 8 hours a week, the father of four quickly grew to realise how in-demand sports chaplains were.

When I started, there was a little bit of resistance from players because a chaplain was a new thing and some had the attitude of why would they need a chaplain – and it also made me ask myself why was I there. But it didn’t take long for them to start knocking at my door,” Cameron said.

Looking back at the first time that he was introduced to the club in 1997, Cameron smiles and laughs about how far he and the club have come.

“On my first day when I was introduced to the players the majority were quite welcoming and, on their way out, they all shook my hand except for one player who grunted and walked away,” he said.

Cameron recalled how that player went on to live out his football career for the next six years never speaking more then a few words to him, then after running into him years later and striking up a conversation, the two became friends and Cameron ended up performing his wedding.

Though little publicity is given to sports chaplaincy, Cameron says it is so important to recognise that elite sportspeople are the same as everyone else and have tragedies in their life as well.

“Elite sportspeople often live out their life through sport and in the media and they tend to be very private people, so there needs to be someone that they can go to in private and talk to about anything whether it be a death, injury, a sick family member or friend, or anything like that,” he said.

Cameron said he often found football players tended to need some guidance about two to three years into their career because they tended to get some big identity issues.

“A big problem that many players reach a few years into their career is knowing who they are because they begin to realise that people want to know them for what they do, not who they are and that tends to make many of them become hard and insular,” he said.

Though only 10-15 per cent of the 200 sports chaplains in Australia are involved in local sporting organisations, Cameron believes the figure should be closer to 90-95 per cent.

“Sporting clubs are often the heart of a community and they are consistently dealing with substance abuse, car crashes, suicides and deaths and they need a chaplain. It only has to be a dad who may work full-time but can offer his assistance,” he said.

Cameron said that all sports chaplains were volunteers and held down full-time jobs and he wanted to encourage others to join Sports Chaplaincy Australia.

“We’ve made the process of becoming a sports chaplain easier because we need the people to get involved,” he said.

For more information visit http://www.sportschaplaincy.com.au

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