Fellowship of Christian Athletes encourages camaraderie and stimulates growth.
By Cherie Suonvieri
Published in Issue 4 of The Clarion year 2014 – 2015
On a campus with ample opportunity to grow and encourage others in faith, one area that appeared to be lacking at Bethel was within the athletic communities. In response to the gap, nine students along with several campus pastors came together to organize a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Student leader and junior hockey player Mitch Hughes said the idea came to him after a morning at Substance Church on the University of Northwestern campus. He and Brock Raffaele, also on the men’s hockey team, took interest when they saw an advertisement for FCA.
“We thought, ‘If they have that, why don’t we?’” Hughes explained.
With the hockey team in mind, they pursued the idea of creating a chapter of FCA at Bethel.
“We knew it would be a great outlet for the guys on the hockey team — somewhere they could learn and see other athletes on campus actually encouraging them,” said Hughes.
After conversations with campus pastor Laurel Bunker and associate campus pastor Matt Runion, Bethel’s chapter of FCA was in the works.
FCA is often thought of as an organization that exists on secular campuses — a safe space where Christians can make connections with other Christians, learn, pray and worship together. So why create a chapter of FCA when Bethel already seems to comprise Christian athletes living in fellowship?
“There are non-Christians out there,” Hughes said. “I know from my own personal story that there are a lot of guys who don’t really know who Jesus is.”
While FCA aims to create a safe space for Christians, it also seeks to reach those who are just looking to learn more.
According to Hughes, the goal is to establish FCA in a way that it is not “just another Bible study.”
“It’s not as much to bring Christ to it, it’s to enjoy each other and really build up what everyone’s talking about — that revival,” he said.
Another reason FCA exists at Bethel is to emphasize the fellowship element of living in community with one another.
“Right now, everyone does their own thing in their own sports,” said Mikala Smith, a sophomore on the women’s soccer team. “It will be a great experience to see athletes grow in community and be vulner- able in their faith together.”
On behalf of Campus Ministries, Runion added to the conversation as well. “I am most excited for this overall fellowship FCA at Bethel provides,” he said, “and the chance to tell the amazing stories of what God’s doing within each team.”
While FCA’s primary focus is on athletes, the group is not exclusive, welcoming the collegiate athlete, former high school athlete and those who are neither.
Regarding athletes in particular, however, Hughes elaborated on one of the points FCA is striving to drive home. The leadership team recognizes that many athletes come in with a sense of identity heavily influenced by their involvement in sports, and they seek to meet that with redefining truth.
“We’re trying to take those stories, take those people, and pull that away and say, ‘No, your identity is in Christ, and you can play for Him,’” Hughes said. “What we did in the past doesn’t define who we are in Christ now.”
The first FCA meeting was held on Oct. 6 and drew 80 students, according to Hughes. Each meeting will feature a student speaker, a time of worship, prayer and a special speaker. Head football coach Steve Johnson helped kick off FCA for the fall.
“He was perfect,” Hughes said. “I mean, the guy is fired up.”
The next FCA meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 3 at 8:30 p.m. in CC 313.
“We would love to have as many people come as could fill or even overflow CC313,” Smith said. “Athlete or not, we won’t say no.”
The FCA leadership team looks forward to what the year will hold for athletes and the rest of the community alike.
“The ultimate goal is to really bring to life the community of believers we have at Bethel and tear down the walls that seemingly have been there within each team,” Hughes said. “We want to live out love and live out fellowship in community.”