FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–Fred Luter Jr. has had a full plate during his decades-long calling as a pastor, including the last 23 years at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
He survived Hurricane Katrina, which flooded the church building and scattered the congregation. He has been a second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a popular speaker at an array of Baptist gatherings.
Now, add weekly chaplain to the New Orleans Saints.
While he will not be in Miami for the Super Bowl on Sunday, Luter has stood before team members and coaches to share God’s Word for many of the home games in the Saints’ run to their first-ever NFL title game.
“Are you kidding me? I’ve been a ‘Who Dat’ [Saints] fan my whole life, but many times you don’t see the spiritual side of these guys and know their hearts,” Luter said. “You don’t know the struggles they are facing or see their heart for God. That has been so encouraging for me.”
The Saturday prior to the NFC championship game, Luter stood before team members in a New Orleans-area hotel to share God’s Word.
“I spoke to them from Hebrews 12 on running the Christian race,” Luter said. “I talked about what we need to do to connect spiritually for Him. I told them they have a responsibility to be a light in a dark world.”
The following day, after his regular Sunday morning services at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, Luter watched the team encourage an entire city with their victory and their testimony.
“I have been here for the darkest of days with this city, and it’s wonderful to see it so alive. They are not the ‘Aints’ any longer, but are football champions,” Luter said. “Yet it’s even more encouraging to see those guys in chapel and see them with their Bible and on their knees.”
Unlike many teams, the Saints lack a full-time chaplain, relying instead on Christian players like Heath Evans to organize activities to tend to the team’s spiritual needs.
It was Evans who called Luter late last summer, saying his pastor in Alabama had heard Luter speak and recommended him as somebody who could help the Saints this year.
When he began his service at the start of the season, Luter didn’t know any of the players personally and wasn’t aware of their spiritual condition. Nor did he dream that it would become such a special season for longsuffering Saints fans.
The team’s chapel services for home games are held in a local hotel, with players attending on a voluntary basis.
Luter at first was surprised by the number of players who choose to attend and then was impressed when he learned of their heavy schedule before a game.
“To learn there were so many committed believers on this team and they would take the time before a game to come to chapel and learn from God’s Word is encouraging. It really makes a difference in their life for them to come out,” Luter said.
During home games, Luter also coordinates with Roman Catholic priest Tony Ricard of Our Lady Star of the Sea, who has a Mass for the Catholic players each Saturday night as well.
Because he does not travel with the team, Luter will not be at the Super Bowl on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be interested to going.
“I got a call from a church in Alabama about a preaching assignment and they said, ‘Dr. Fred, we want to be fair with you and pay you for your services.’ I answered, ‘How about two Super Bowl tickets?'”
Alas, however, Luter will be at home Sunday night, rooting for the Saints, especially for the group of players he has discovered to be spiritual champions off the playing field as well.
Art Stricklin is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press.