Theology instructors are game for major league task
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
They call themselves “Bible nerds.” But they’re actually three of the coolest guys on campus – they’re going to be hanging out with professional baseball players.
André Mooney, Numa Gomez and Bob Greene are full-time online faculty members in the College of Theology at Grand Canyon University, and now they have added an interesting volunteer job: They are the new local chaplains for the Milwaukee Brewers organization, beginning with spring training at the team’s Maryvale complex and continuing year-round.
It’s a dream come true, in particular, for Greene, a passionate Boston Red Sox fan even though he grew up an hour north of San Diego in Fallbrook, Calif. Why did he choose the Red Sox? Simple. He despises the New York Yankees, so the only logical thing to do, in his mind, was to declare his allegiance to the Yankees’ biggest rival. Greene will make another pilgrimage to famed Fenway Park in July, taking in eight games, and his cubicle at GCU’s Peoria office is adorned with Red Sox paraphernalia – pennants, posters and a souvenir Fenway brick.
So how did three GCU instructors become Brewer buddies? The catalyst was Gomez, who got an email in 2008 from the president of Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., where he and André met and became, in Mooney’s words, “instant friends.” The email asked if he would be interested in serving the Cincinnati Reds organization at what is known in baseball as extended spring training. Through the summer, selected players — especially those rehabilitating injuries — gather at spring training sites to play in simulated games and receive treatment as needed.
Gomez volunteered, although he wasn’t available to do the chapel service on Sunday morning because he was pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Avondale. He continued to get emails seeking chaplain candidates from Baseball Chapel, a group established in 1974 to appoint and oversee team chapel leaders, but did not respond again until January. He had just become a full-time online instructor at GCU and had stepped down as pastor because, as he put it, “being an online instructor is a ministry itself.” It dawned on him that his Sundays were now free.
He showed the email to Mooney and Greene, and within a day and a half they were on a Skype call with Steve Sisco, who helps coordinate discipleship and chaplain training for Baseball Chapel. “We said, ‘You know what? We think we can do this as a team. Our diversity works well for us,’” Mooney said. (Gomez is Hispanic, Mooney is African-American and Greene is white.)
The trio works closely with Steve Sonderman, the team’s Milwaukee-based chapel leader, whenever he is in town but is the main contact unit for the Brewers at spring training. The men conduct 20-minute chapel services on Sunday mornings, although a big part of their mission will be to simply “do life” with players – taking them to barbecues, watching them play in games, inviting them to fellowships, and just hanging out and building relationships with them while showing how the Bible relates to their lives.
“As we develop those relationships, as time goes on we will understand their needs,” Greene said. “We really want the players to understand how they have value outside of what they bring physically to the team.”
The trio plans to quote liberally from the book of Romans because, as Mooney put it, “Paul has a lot to say there.” To which Gomez added, “I’m going to tell stories and relate them to life.”
Sisco, part of a staff of six that manages more than 500 chapel leaders, said the most challenging part of being a chapel leader in spring training and extended spring is the players’ age range: Some in their 30s will be leaving the game soon, and others are teenagers just getting used to being away from home. All chaplains are volunteers, and each team manages its own group that serves all the teams in the organization, from the majors down to the lowest minors. Baseball Chapel even arranges chaplains for independent league teams.
A typical chapel service includes a reading of a worship passage, a prayer that sometimes is read by a player and a short sermon by the chapel leader. All of the players get a handout every Sunday, but the chapel leader is free to shape the message in a way that is most appropriate for that team. Usually, there are separate chapel services for each team at each stadium, in both English and Spanish.
All three Brewers chaplains have been involved in athletics all of their lives. Mooney was an assistant football coach and assistant athletic director at Dakota College at Bottineau (N.D.), a campus 20 minutes south of the Canadian border; Mooney and Gomez play pickup basketball three times a week; and Greene played football and baseball in his younger days. So it’s not as if they can’t talk “ball.” But the best part of the job, in their minds, is spreading God’s Word.
These nerds are about to be heard.
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or [email protected].