God and the Gridiron Church uses football as a way to fellowship

Ronnie Cameron (left), a former member of the Eagles practice squad is joined by pastor Rev. Gerry Clemmer in prayer before the start of the Monday Night Football game at Souderton Mennonite Church. A group of guys meet every Monday during the season to "tailgate," discuss mens issues, faith and the Bible and then watch the game. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Ronnie Cameron (left), a former member of the Eagles practice squad is joined by pastor Rev. Gerry Clemmer in prayer before the start of the Monday Night Football game at Souderton Mennonite Church. A group of guys meet every Monday during the season to "tailgate," discuss mens issues, faith and the Bible and then watch the game. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Souderton church combines faith and football.

Posted: November 28, 2013

The pastor's faith had taken a hit. The man entrusted with the spiritual life of hundreds had lost a teenage daughter to cancer.

So Jim Laverty, 48, an associate pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church, leaned on the people he shared so much with - his football buddies.

They sent him texts of support. They listened when Laverty shared his grief and disappointment.

And it all started with football.

On the eve of the biggest pigskin binge day of the year, the Men's Monday Night Football Fellowship at the 700-member Souderton Mennonite Church is about more than touchdowns and Eagles pride.

The football season-long evenings of tailgating, Bible study, and game-day cheer are about fostering a connection between men who may have been taught that sharing their experiences and emotions merits a penalty flag in everyday life.

"The goal is to develop honest, transparent relationships with other men," said the Rev. Gerry Clemmer, senior pastor. "It shatters the idea that men don't need anybody else, and it's in the context of sports, so we have fun."

For 10 weeks, starting with the first Monday night game of the season, between 45 and 60 men, from teenagers to senior citizens, gather in the West Street Community Center gym, adjacent to the Montgomery County church.

The men bring food (often made by their wives or mothers) for pregame tailgating, and then it's "chalk talk," a discussion, and game time.

"Chalk talk" is the presentation of that night's topic, conveyed in a Bible lesson or video. Then, the men gather around tables in what they call "huddles" and discuss the subject. It might be fatherhood, the traits of a "Godly man," or a man's willingness to show vulnerability.

"You see people in church and you think they've got it all together," said Ted Hughes, 80, a retired bus driver and staunch Eagles fan, "but you talk to them, and they're crying" inside.

Group members have shared their struggles with addiction, marriage problems, and feelings of failure because they can't find a job, said Fred Cole, 77, Laverty's father-in-law.

"And what's heard at the table stays at the table," Cole said.

The retired coach struggled in a way similar to his son-in-law when his granddaughter - Laverty's daughter Emily - died of a rare spinal cancer.

"Why pray if it doesn't turn out like you want?" Cole said he shared at a football fellowship.

Eventually, he came to terms.

"We prayed that she would be healed and come home," Cole said. "She was healed when she died, and she went home to be with the Lord."

Cole introduced the idea of the football fellowship to the church about four years ago, after hearing from a former student about a similar gathering held in a home.

On Monday, chalk talk was led by Ronnie Cameron, a former member of the Eagles practice squad who was released by the team in May.

Cameron, 24, a defensive tackle who also played for the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns, talked about the role that faith played in his life and during his stint in pro football.

"The NFL exposes you to a lot of things, and with the money, you have all the resources in the world to do bad things," said Cameron, who earned a bachelor's degree from Hofstra University and an MBA from Old Dominion University.

Teammates who shared Cameron's faith, including Eagles Jason Avant and Emmanuel Acho, helped him avoid the pitfalls, Cameron said.

Cameron, who works as an information technology consultant in Washington, has started a website, www.bonfireimpact.com. The site highlights the charitable work of nonprofits, including one by church member Austin Landes, who with his wife, Julie, runs Make it Rain, which organizes community service trips.

Landes, who invited Cameron to the church, sat in the meeting on Monday as the former Eagle answered questions from the group.

On bullying among players: "It happens, but not as often as the media makes you think."

On former Eagles coach Andy Reid: "an old school coach who pushes his athletes and respects them."

On fighting: Cameron did a little early as a young player but stopped because "when an older guy knocks you around, you grow up fast."

Chris Pearce, 18, of Souderton, listened from a table. Pearce doesn't know a first down from a punt return. He comes to the Men's Monday Night Football Fellowship for reasons other than football.

"I never had much of a male figure in my life," said Pearce, whose father died when he was 5. "It helps to hear what other people are going through. And when I walked through the door that first night, they made me feel like they wanted me here."


kholmes@phillynews.com

610-313-8211

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|