Featured in the Sept / October 2023 Sorted Magazine, meet Sports Mission Pioneer, Holly Phipps
Holly Phipps loves running, particularly park runs. But Holly doesn't just run for fun, her whole life is a race – one where she is sure of the prize. It’s a prize that gives her hope and a future, a prize that fills her life with purpose, compassion, and love for those around her. It’s a prize that inspires her to stand in the middle of a sports field on a Friday afternoon and connect with children and young people from a housing estate in Fir Vale, Sheffield.
During her gap year between school and university, Holly spent time with Christians in Sport, where she met Mark Oliver, Scripture Union's Sports Mission Team Leader. It was at this event that the penny dropped for Holly, as she realised how connected sport and mission could be. Talking further with Mark, Holly discovered that SU were looking for Sports Mission Pioneers. “It was a perfect fit, using sport with my faith to reach out to children and young people. I applied for one of the sports roles and started working for SU one day a week in September 2022.”
"Go for it, pick up the baton!"
Fir Vale is the lowest-income estate in the area and in the lowest 10% in terms of the UK. Around 10 years ago, The Message Trust placed an Eden (urban missionary) team on the estate. At the same time, Gareth Ingle from St Thomas Crookes church decided to move into the area and worked in the local school, becoming embedded in the community and building relationships with young people and their families. Gareth developed a real heart for the area and the people in it and in 2022, with a small core team, planted All Nations Church, who now meet regularly in the local community centre.
As Holly started her work with SU, she realised that her worlds were colliding. Gareth had already set up a weekly football session to connect with the young people and Holly took hold of the opportunity to step up and step in. "They just kind of handed me the footballs and the goals, and were like, 'Go for it, pick up the baton!'”
Holly can see opportunities with the Friday football, beyond the chance to simply connect. One young girl who comes along to Friday football is a Christian. Their time together has created the space for her to talk to Holly and ask questions as she grows in her faith: “The girl who comes every week is going to be a leader in the youth group next year. She’s so committed that she's decided to stay after she's finished her GCSEs.”
Opening up on sports camps
Holly is also involved in sports camps where young people with no connection with church get the opportunity to discover who Jesus is for themselves.
"On the three-day camp, we found that it was in the one-to-one conversations where the young people would open up and share about prayer. Yeah, I definitely had some interesting conversations about who God was to them, or who Jesus was." Holly laughed as she recalled some of the conversations she’d had. When chatting with a group of young lads, one of them said, "We see God as a father, and we see God, as like, a safe hug." Holly reflects, "That was nice. And yeah, kind of interesting! Despite not having a real faith or going to church, that is the image of God they have picked up from the residential, or from going to the youth group, or wherever!"
Since that chat in the youth group, the young people have asked deeper questions around prayer and going to church. One particular conversation stands out to Holly: "[In the minibus on the way back] from an activity awayday, one of the guys was saying he really values prayer and loves praying. He said, ‘I pray every evening’, which was really cool to hear. And he said how even though he doesn't get to church all the time, when he does, he values it and feels included because they invite him to play guitar and help them out.
“It's been exciting to have conversations like that, where you realise some of these young people do have a real faith. There are just some gaps of understanding, or gaps of not fully knowing Bible stories, just because they've not grown up going to SU camps and they've not grown up in the church. And how their faith is lived out might not look as structured and regular as having a small group or having a church that they attend, but [they] really are walking with Jesus, and they really have a personal relationship [with him].”
Speak the language of sport
Discover more about Mark and his team, as well as the support they can offer you and your church today.
Will you be a part of enabling the team to bring that life-changing message of hope through sports and games?