Sundays are a day where many Christians and Catholics go to church and celebrate their faith and religion. For FC Edmonton players, when they play on Sundays, they are unable to attend a traditional Sunday service. This is where Brent Kassian—who is a local chaplain—comes in to provide players with a unique Sunday service at Clarke Stadium.
“It seems like they’ve got a great locker room here and I am looking forward to working with them,” Kassian says. “Our Sunday service is fairly short; it’s a time for us to get together and focus a little. We just talk briefly for about 15 minutes. Then we do a prayer together and that’s it.”
“The theme for this year, and we aren’t stealing Nike’s theme, but it’s ‘Just do it.’ It’s based on the new testament book of James,” he adds. “He sort of talks about how talk is cheap. It’s about showing that love, faith in action and just making it happen. You want to do something, you want to make the plays and there are plays in life we have to make.”
Kassian has been providing professional athletes with this kind of experience for over 20 years and he started with Athletes in Action two decades ago as a professional sports chaplain. Kassian has worked with several professional organizations, including teams in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL).
The chaplain—or, as everyone calls him, “Chappy”—got involved with FC Edmonton in 2014. He was contacted by a member of the team towards the tail end of the 2013 season. At first, it was just to act as chaplain for Tomi Ameobi and Kareem Moses. This year, it has expanded to half-a-dozen players, who all regularly chat with Kassian.
“I met briefly with Tomi [ Ameobi] and then the GM at the time, Rod Proudfoot,” Kassian recalls. “Rod was the one who said I think this would be great for the organization. I started with the two players and we went from them. We meet every couple of weeks and we just talk. It can be about life, or current events, issues they’re having with soccer or any personal highs and lows. Guys are here with families far away, there are sometimes worries and issues and we talk it through and pray together.”
“For me its been personally very rewarding to see that growth and development on and off the field,” he adds. “You want your athletes to be good community members, you want athletes giving back in positive ways and they want to be positive role models for the younger fans today.”
For Ameobi, religion has been a big part of his upbringing and his life in general. The Newcastle native grew up in a religious household, as both his parents were pastors. Going to church was an everyday thing.
“We’d be up at the crack of dawn for family alter,” Ameobi says. “Then we would go on to school and our parents went to work. Then in the evening, four or five times a week, we were at church for evening service, prayer meeting or bible study.”
However, as Ameobi’s career progressed and he was introduced to the world of professional soccer, he started losing a bit of his religious faith. A lot of it has to do with the fact that as a soccer player, you often play during weekends. So you miss out on the traditional weekend services and then it becomes easy to get lost in the lifestyle of a pro athlete.
“As soon as I turned professional … I kind of fell out of love with my faith,” Ameobi admits. “And it was mainly because I wasn’t playing an active part in it. It wasn’t until I came over to North America, because chaplaincy isn’t as big in the U.K. as it is here. I got introduced with Brent, or Chappy as we like to call him, [and] that helped spark the fire back in me to get in touch with my faith and something I valued so much.”
“I think we can get bogged down and get pigeonholed by what we do, how much we earn, the careers we are in,” he adds. “If things aren’t going well in that aspect, then everything else falls apart. But with my faith, I believe regardless of my external circumstances that I am loved and I am of worth. For me when I realized that, it helped me find new meaning in my life and renewed importance on why I am doing what I am doing.”
Now, Ameobi has reconnected with his roots. He has realized that as you get older, there is more to life than just being an athlete. That we, as humans, have a greater purpose in this life than just our careers.
“Chappy comes here with some scriptures and a bit of encouragement for us about how we are not just pro footballers,” Ameobi says. “Our identity isn’t in what we do, rather than who we are and who god says who we are. And it helps calm our nerves before games. I can go out there on the field and, regardless of what happens, I know that I am valued. I know that I am someone of worth, that my worth isn’t based on my performance. It helps lift the pressure off me.”
Many players are starting to join Ameobi and Moses before games with Kassian. The likes of James Marcelin, Allan Zebie, Jeannot Esau, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, and Youngchan Son have all joined or have expressed the desire to join the Sunday service before kickoff. Seeing the interest grow has been encouraging for Ameobi and Kassian.
“It’s an added extra bonus that brings us closer,” Ameobi notes. “We are a united locker room as is; there is a great relationship within the team already. It is also good to know that there is someone sitting to your right and left, who are there for you. I know for me when I am going through a hard time, it’s a nice feeling to know you have someone encouraging and supporting you.”