Basketball-loving ministers move into sanctuary for March Madness

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Basketball-loving ministers move into sanctuary for March Madness

Two ministers in Riverview have moved their offices into the sanctuary of St. Paul's United Church for the next few weeks as they cheer for their picks in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

"We generally tend to pack up our offices on Thursdays and Fridays and move into the sanctuary and watch the games on the big screen," said Rev. Steve Berube of St. Paul's United Church.

The college basketball tournament had fans glued to their big screen televisions and tiny laptops all weekend with buzzer beaters and huge upsets as the top 64 teams were whittled down to 16.

Rev. Andy O'Neill, a huge Duke University fan, said that for him and Berube, it only makes sense to move into the pews to watch the games on the big screen in the sanctuary for the next couple of weeks.

"The screen is probably about 10 feet by 14 or 16 — something like that," O'Neill said. "So when you attach your computer, and the projector is putting the image on the screen, we have a huge image to watch and it's in crystal clear HD."

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O'Neill admits that watching the games, while also writing his sermons, can lead to some extra sports content on Sunday mornings.

"Stories very definitely make their way into the sermon," he laughed. "One of my favourite stories of course as a Duke fan is the Grant Hill pass to Christian Laettner to win against Kentucky in 1991."

O'Neill said he's told the story of the jump shot by Laettner with just 1.6 seconds on the clock at least five times in the past few years because he thinks it illustrates an important lesson.

"That you never give up. That when you have practised and practised and put lots of work into something, things actually can come out."

Sharing the joy of sport

Both Berube and O'Neill have picked the Villanova Wildcats to win the tournament, but they say it's all in fun. Villanova advanced to the next round on the weekend. 

The ministers both grew up playing basketball and know sports can bring families and communities together. 

"Watching the basketball here in the sanctuary, we have at times had people from the congregation come and join us and bring their kids," O'Neill said.

"In the hall here in the church we play basketball and it's not the only sport, but it is one of those that seems to bring people together."

As for Berube, he loves to see the joy in the young players who triumph in the single elimination games.

"With something like this there's really nothing that rides on it," he said. "It's just a lot of fun and in life oftentimes it can feel heavy.

"Something like this is just joyous and so that's where we need to focus our lives a little bit more in terms of trying to have some fun, to lighten up a little bit and to celebrate those things in life, even if it is something as transient as a basketball game. That's what can bring us together as people."

Fatherly advice

O'Neill agreed and said even though it is fun to watch the games on the huge screen, his father did offer him some advice about cheering in the church sanctuary.

"We are only allowed, in his opinion, to cheer for good Christian schools ... and we're not allowed to cheer for what he called 'godless schools' like Kentucky," O'Neill said as he laughed.

But that likely just shows the bias of his father, an alumnus of Duke University, he said.