Sporting Hope – Chaplain to the Brisbane Broncos
As part of Chappy Week celebrations throughout QLD we’re shining a spotlight and highlighting the roles of Chaplains who work across various industries. Bill Hunter is a chaplain for the Brisbane Broncos Football Club and he shares his story with us.
Two Great Loves
Bill Hunter has two passions, God and sport.
Being raised by his Salvation Army Pastors, he grew up with a love for God. However, due to his parent’s ministry, they were constantly moving. Bill recalls that “my education wasn’t great because of the many changes in schools; it was really sport that saved me.”
“I loved getting involved in cricket, footy, and running… that changed my life.” Bill explains.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do originally. I joined the Police Force when I left school. It seemed like something interesting and active.” He moved around between the Valley, Roma, and Nambour in different roles with the police for a few years.
It was during this time that his path intersected with Wayne Bennett, who was the boss of the Police Academy PE department back then. He asked if Bill would come and join the Police Academy as a PE Teacher. “I did that for about 18 years and I loved that,” he recalls with fondness.
All the while Bill had a growing desire to combine his two passions of Christianity and sport. In 1997 that opportunity arose when the chaplain for the Brisbane Broncos left his position. “In 1998 I was appointed, through Sports Chaplaincy Australia, as the chaplain to the Broncos.” He fondly recalls.
Gaining trust amongst the stars
Now, in his twentieth year of serving the team, Bill is ready to retire from the position. “I have done a lot in that time and I have someone new trained up ready to take over at the end of the year.”
Bill credits his love for sport, predominately running, as the key that unlocked the door into the lives of the players he has worked with.
“I was a good marathon runner and won some races, including state titles. I represented Queensland Police at World Police Olympics in Canada.” Bill also went to the 2000 Paralympics as a guide runner for blind athlete Gerrard Gosen. “I did a lot of running with Gerrard, including the world championships in France.”
“My background in running really helped me to train with the Broncos. In pre-season training they used to go out to a private property and run up and down hills.” During this time, Bill would get amongst the plays and build relationships with the team. “It gave me credibility with them, and I got in and encouraged them during the tough sessions.”
As a chaplain, Bill visits with the team the day before a match. “It is a good day to catch up with them, they are relaxed but starting to get geared up, it is a great time to check in with them.”
The last few years, Bill has been running a bible study group with some of the players. “There are about six guys that come to it, we catch up and chat, have a pray together.”
When the team is at home Bill goes along to the game and drops by the dressing room afterwards to encourage the team. He even tries to organise his work schedule around the away games and will drop by when he can.
Bill has managed to build strong relationship with many of the players over the years, such as Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges, and Brad Thorn. This is not an easy task, as often a player’s time at the club can be short lived. “There are a few players that I have officiated at their weddings, or their children’s christenings.” He shares how he enjoys those times.
In 2006 Bill was also asked to lead a funeral of one of the young players who committed suicide. “It was a difficult time and I was glad I could be there to support the club and offer hope to those affected.”
Relieving the pressure of success
Bill admits that being a chaplain in this industry is not easy. “You are not always accepted, some struggle to understand the need for a chaplain and are not particularly friendly. However, in the main, most people are great.”
“I am really there for the young guys, although I help out with other staff too if they need me.” While most people are envious of the perceived lifestyle of the young players, Bill shares that is not as easy as people think. “It can be difficult for them, they can’t do too much outside of footy without lots of attention. It is pretty restrictive.”
“Chaplaincy is important in this field as it is healthy to have an independent person who can support the players,” Bill explains. “I am not paid by the club, and everything I hear is in confidence.” This allows the players to unload any personal pressures and alleviate any concerns about the ramifications on their career.
Gaining the players’ trust is the hardest part of the job affirms Bill. “I remember early on one of the players was injured and he asked me to pray for him during the game. I did and he played well, scoring the match willing try. He was so excited that the prayer had worked”, Bill chuckles as he remembers the story. “He then asked me to pray for him in the Grand Final, we won, and he got Man of the Match. It sowed some powerful seeds in his life about prayer.”
It is moments like this that make Bill grateful to his heavenly Father for his journey in life. He has found much joy in his two passions and feels blessed to have served God as the Broncos chaplain for the past two decades.
A dream come true for the country boy who loves his sport.
Charissa Steffens is a teacher, writer, and speaker. She is the former editor of Indulge Magazine and still enjoys writing about faith and family at her blog She Matters (www.shematters.com.au). Charissa is actively involved as an elder and leader at Nexus Church in Brisbane. She has two precious children and has been married to David for many a moon. She loves cooking shows and coffee!