Struggle for Hearts, Minds on Sunday

Associated Press

Sports vs. church: It's become the Sunday morning dilemma in homes across the nation.

With weekend sports leagues growing in popularity, schedules have stretched further into those hours that were once the exclusive domain of churches.

Now, clergy of many faiths are pushing back, asking coaches and time-starved parents to keep Sunday morning holy, even if it means their children's teams have to play some other time.

"I don't want my kids to grow up with great football memories and no Biblical knowledge," said Rev. Chuck Rush, senior minister at Christ Church in Summit, a New York City suburb. "You've got this dramatic pressure between playing sports and going to church, which isn't good."

The Summit Interfaith Council recently issued an appeal to public and private sports leagues to refrain from scheduling games before noon on Sunday.

Rush, who helped write the appeal, sees the church vs. sports conflict in his own home. His 13-year-old daughter, who plays soccer, is sometimes torn between religion and her loyalty to her team, where she stood a good chance of being named most valuable player.

"She was in a tournament recently and she said, 'I could be the MVP, but if I don't play in this Sunday's game, I definitely won't be the MVP," he recalled.

It all boils down to time, and the precious lack of it for families. As the growing demands of homework, weekend errands and sports compete for families' free time, church often loses.

One church in Andover, Mass., recently conducted a marketing survey to find out when congregants had time to attend weekend services. The most common response: Saturday at 5 p.m., because Sunday was all but booked.

"You run around all week long, commuting to work and coming home, and run and run all weekend long and by Sunday night, you're asking, 'What the heck just happened?"' Rush said. "Sabbath means there's some structured rest."

But stacking games on Saturday isn't the answer for everyone. Those games inconvenience Jewish families, who sympathize with the churches' problem but would prefer their kids play on Sunday.

"Having games on Saturday morning is a huge challenge for the Jewish community," said Allyson Gall, New Jersey Director for the American Jewish Committee in nearby Millburn. "I'd try like crazy to get the kids to an 8 a.m. game, have them change clothes in the car on the way back and rush them to synagogue."

At St. Teresa of Avila R.C. Church in Summit, it's not uncommon to see youngsters in the pews dressed in soccer or football uniforms, ready to be whisked off to the field as soon as the last organ note fades.

Don Rasweiler, a father of five and a football coach, must deal with both sides of the debate. He has to be at the field an hour before the 10:30 a.m. game, which means getting at least some of the kids up early enough for 7:30 a.m. Mass. There's also a good chance one or two of his other children will have a game later in the day.

Rasweiler and his wife Kate frequently handle it by splitting up, attending different Masses with Jack, 12, Henry, 10, or Abigail, 8, depending on the week's sports schedule.

Rasweiler said his wife isn't pleased with the solution.

"We were discussing it a couple weekends ago, and she said, 'I don't like the effect this is having on us. We should go to church as a family.' "

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