EDITORS’ NOTE: Sportswriter Art Stricklin, in his third year of BP coverage of the spiritual side of the Super Bowl, will be reporting this week from the site of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
DETROIT (BP)–Karl Payne has been a Baptist minister in the Pacific Northwest long enough to know that Christianity can be a polarizing factor in his part of the country.
Most people in the Seattle area are either on fire for their faith — or on fire to stop or ignore yours.
“There isn’t a whole lot of middle ground here,” Payne said.
But as the team chaplain prepared Tuesday to take part in the Seahawks’ first-ever trip to the Super Bowl, Payne is pleased that some of the people most for him and his faith are wearing the team’s green jerseys.
The NFC’s Seahawks, who will take on heavily favored AFC Steelers in Sunday’s Super Bowl XL, will be led by some dedicated men of faith on the field and off.
“It’s really exciting to see some great Christian team leaders like [quarterback] Matt Hasselbeck and [league MVP running back] Shaun Alexander on this team,” Payne said.
“They have done a great job for us this year and will have a great platform for the Lord this week.”
Among other Christians on the team are Michael Boulware; linebacker D.D. Lewis, a former University of Texas star; and kicker Josh Brown.
The strong nucleus of Christian players has been bolstered by an equally strong group of faith-filled coaches, Payne said.
When Mike Holmgren left Green Bay to take over at Seattle several years ago, one of the first things he did was ask Payne to travel with the team on the road and spend as much time as possible with his team at home.
“I had to tell him I was a pastor at a local Bible church and had responsibilities with my congregation and couldn’t be gone every week to be on the road.”
Payne was able to enlist the help of Christian authors Chuck and Barb Snyder to help teach Bible studies during the week and take on various other responsibilities with the team, players and coaches.
Payne was able to do all the home chapel services, conduct a Friday Bible study with the players and get people to lead chapel when the team was on the road.
But you can expect him to be on the sidelines of Ford Field on Sunday for the showdown with the Steelers. “I can miss one week at church for the first-ever [Seattle] Super Bowl,” he said.
“I won’t pray for our team to win because I know there are Christians on both sides, but I can pray that God will tip the ball for our team or at least not against us.”
Payne said the church where he serves as one of the pastors, Antioch Bible, a relatively large biracial fellowship, is not only solidly behind his chaplain work with the Seahawks, they’re one of the reasons he has his current NFL assignment.
When he joined the staff at Antioch, coming from San Diego in 1992, he began to disciple some men in his congregation. Several were retired Seahawks players as was the church’s senior pastor, Ken Hutchison.
After about a year of the teaching and fellowship, the men came to Payne asking he if would mind doing the same thing with the current Seattle football team. He talked with then-Seattle coach Dennis Erickson who gave his blessing to having a team chaplain.
“The team has been very kind and gracious to give me total freedom to teach the Bible, which I feel is one of my callings,” Payne said.
The team is flying him and his wife to Detroit on an official team charter to be able to bring encouragement and speak with the team before their final game.
“Having a coach who is a Christian and doesn’t fight you or your ministry at every turn is a real blessing. I am very blessed with my situation with this team.”
While his congregation in Seattle has been understandably excited about the Seahawks’ first-ever Super Bowl trip, Payne said he has found a peace with an equally excited congregation of Seattle football players and coaches.
“I have a congregation of 130 players and coaches who were great athletes, but also some of them know they have a platform to tell others about their faith.
“With that type of eternal perspective,” Payne said, “it’s easier to reach out to the players and the public at large.”