By Donna Schaper

The competition for Sunday morning is under way for the fall season. It’s between two excellent things: worship and soccer – or hockey or whatever your kids play. Families who value both religious and sports experiences for their children increasingly find themselves caught in the fray as more leagues schedule Sunday games or practices.

Sports today aren’t so much a leisure activity as a sacred one. Sports give a “high,” a sense of belonging with a ritual nature. They’re more like a religious experience than not. It’s not accidental that they get prime time.

I’m a mother of three junior high-age ids. We’re raising our children both ways – with a religious and “regular” life. “Regular” is their word. We think of faith as regular, too, but don’t find much support from our culture.

But parents can take some positive steps to support each other in this effort to make time for religion.

*Organize parents of all faiths to speak together to the sport league heads and coaches about scheduling. Ask that no games or practices be held on Sunday mornings. If that request is ignored, ask that players aren’t penalized if they miss practice to attend religious services.

*Hold a home service if a sports schedule conflict – like a traveling all-star game – makes you decide to miss Sunday worship. Sit with the child at the kitchen table. Use the church bulletin or lesson for the day, read it and discuss it together, and have a brief prayer. Even five minutes can go a long way with children.

*Ask your pastor for “Tuesday school” – a time for Christian education off the busy weekend. These are popular in New England. They allow families to schedule religious instruction with the week’s activities.

In our goal to raise our children as faithful people, we don’t need to put down soccer to lift up faith. Rather, we need to know how to talk about God and Jesus, about hope and faith, in several languages. As we in the church compete for our once-sacred Sunday morning slot, we must realize that we aren’t speaking the holy in language people can understand.

We need to become multilingual about our religious faith because Christianity has lost its cultural dominance, so evident in the competition for Sunday mornings. This loss is both positive and negative. For too long we in the church assumed we had it made and therefore didn’t “work” hard to make our message understood by others. Now that we have to make plain our faith, we’re better off. It’s harmful to e gospel to have it so firmly supported by culture.

Jesus never enjoyed that support. Neither should the body of Christ.

But the advantages of this moment are counterbalanced by some serious threats to personal peace. The negative side lies in the surplus of choices the modern family faces.

A pastor in a small hill town north of here told me, “I don’t think I could face the daily stress my 15-year-old faces.” What stress is there in Shelburne Falls, you might ask. The same stress found in big cities – the surplus of stimulation.

The average person today, it’s claimed, negotiates 15 times the stimulation as people of a previous time. Multiply that stimulation for children by the kinds of games and television they watch. They’re not accustomed to having “enchanted” or sacred time. So getting them to choose between the jumpy, chaotic schedule they-re used to and a patterned, Sabbath life is challenging. We soccer moms know.

The church has a stake in sacred time – a greater stake, even, than it has in a Sunday-morning time slot.

Parents who really want to do something about guarding Sunday mornings for worship d about making time in their homes more patterned and less stressful will find the solution fairly simple. It’s to field the best offense.

An important community conversation happens when “time” becomes a subject. The church acts for God and God’s sacred message, instead of just its “slot.” People of different religious backgrounds can join in support for remembering the Sabbath.

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from The Lutheran, October, 1997.