Friday, January 14, 2011

Brahmas' Cliff Shaw serves a higher calling

Team Chaplain ministers to players, coaches, as well as fans

Originally published in Pro Hockey News

He's one of the most recognizable people around the NYTEX Sports Centre and on any given day can be found just about anywhere within the 140,000 square foot facility.

Known affectionately as "Rev", Cliff Shaw serves as Team Chaplain for the Central Hockey League's Texas Brahmas, attending to the spiritual needs of the players, coaches and other members of the organization. Even fans seek out "Rev" for assistance when there is a need.

Shaw, 62, is a representative of Hockey Ministries International, a non-denominational Christian organization, first organized in 1977. Pre-game prayer, chapel sessions, baptisms and spiritual direction are just a few of the services he provides and he also remains available 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk.

Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong says that he has always appreciated the service Shaw has rendered to the franchise.

“Cliff’s been such a big part of our organization for so many years, even before I was here,” Wildfong said. “He does a lot for the guys personally, but also, if we don’t get to church, he’s here to support everyone in their faith and I think he’s done a fantastic job of doing that.”

An alumnus of the University of Houston, Shaw says he felt called to service when he found himself at the crossroads in his business career.

"In 1989, I had a good job. I was making six figures, had a company car and an expense account. I was very involved with my church and I was a volunteer with the Athletes in Action Sports Ministry. When I lost my job, I prayed about what what was next for me and decided this is what I need to do – God sent me in this direction, so that’s how I actually got started."

Shaw is quick to point out that what he does now is different from a vocation.

"It’s not a job, it’s a calling," he says. "A lot of people say, what do you mean it’s a calling? Well, if you’ve been called, you know what it means. God equips the people he calls. He doesn’t call the equipped, necessarily. That’s how I got involved."

Shaw's lifelong love of ice hockey led him to service in and around the sport.

"I’ve been around hockey since I was born," Shaw said. "My grandfather was involved with the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings organizations. I learned to skate at Maple Leaf Gardens. I’ve been around the game all of my life. I love the game. But hockey’s a culture, it’s not a game. It’s a culture."

Spreading his ministry was a challenge for Shaw early on, requiring a tremendous amount of circulation, networking and perseverance.

Shaw conducts a chapel session following a practice

"When I first started, I was a maverick in the Central Hockey League," Shaw said. "I was the only guy around. I traveled with the team for awhile and then, when I would get to other cities, I would seek out yellow page ads for churches and I would call pastors to try and find people to work with the other teams. My goal was to get chaplains in with every team."

Shaw found that sometimes, just "being there" was enough to provide valuable opportunities.

"Early on, I just started going to practice and kept going and going and going," Shaw explained. "Finally one day, a player asked me “what do you do?” and that gave me an opportunity to tell him."

Shaw quickly found that integrating chapel sessions into the busy schedules of players, coaches and other personnel could be a challenge at times, let alone getting players to commit to attending.

"Chapel programs in hockey are relatively new," Shaw explained. "In football and basketball and baseball, it’s a given. They’ll have their chapel programs on game days or the day before. But in hockey, it’s relatively new. Most of the time, guys are receptive to it because it’s new. Sometimes, they’ll check it out. And some guys are actual believers."

While he often meets resistance from players, Shaw is never discouraged.

"I think most guys are open to the idea; however the majority of guys don’t come. That doesn’t mean they’re not interested. Sometimes I actually think they’re afraid. Because it’s new; it’s something different they’ve never had. And when I say afraid, I don’t mean fearful, it’s just because it’s new."

Still, Shaw spends plenty of time developing relationships with everyone he comes in contact with.

"I always tell people, you can’t have a ministry until you have a relationship," he says. "They don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. The thing is, guys have to trust you before they’ll open up to you. I’ve had many opportunities to sit and just listen to guys and visit with guys and share the good news of Christ with them. That’s what I’m all about."

Shaw talking with officials during a recent game

Shaw often keeps it simple when it comes to his message of faith to the players.

"I pray that they will use the abilities God has given them to help the team. I also try to be very basic. God loves ’em, Jesus died for them, and the way to heaven is through Christ."

Shaw will oversee the Texas Brahmas' inaugural Faith and Family Day on Sunday, January 30th during which they will host the Fort Wayne Komets with a 4:00 pm opening face off. Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells will be the featured speaker at the event, which will include a post-game round table with Brahmas players, an appearance by the Robert Gotcher Band and a puck give-away to youth attendees courtesy of Hockey Ministries International.

Since 1977, Hockey Ministries International has been active in every level of the game, from youth, college and junior, up to minor pro and the NHL. Through their many camps, chapels, clinics, and conferences, they serve and support the spiritual needs of players, coaches, families and fans throughout North America and Europe.

For more information, visit their website here.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

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