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Nov20WedAs the pastor for two major-league teams, Lorne Korol is a chaplain in action. November 20, 2019 by Jayne Thurber-Smith
Lorne Korol, the chaplain for the Winnipeg Jets and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, knows first-hand the power of sharing even just one Bible verse when given an opening, because he still remembers the first one that was shared with him.
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“Back in 1986, the Toronto Blue Jays were playing an exhibition game against Team Canada,” Lorne remembers. “I have worked my whole life in sports and I was there with the national team as an intern/summer student for Baseball Manitoba. The Jays weren’t excited about it not being a pro game. They all walked by me like I didn’t exist, except one player—Kelly Gruber. He took me aside and gave me an autographed ball.
“When I looked at it after he left me, it looked like he had written ‘Room 109,’ and I thought, What’s this? Then I showed it to my mom and she told me it said ‘Rom. 10:9.’ ”
Lorne looked up the Bible verse Kelly wanted him to read: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“That planted a seed in my heart,” he says. “Twelve years later, I became a Christian at age 35. Kelly played a big role in that. My off-field life hadn’t been a good one and included too much partying. That led to the demise of my first marriage, and I was diagnosed with depression.”
Then a friend invited him to church one Sunday.
“The message was just for me,” says Lorne. “I had grown up in church, but this was a non-denominational service. The music reminded me of U2. There were no pews—just chairs—and I thought it was cool. It seemed the pastor talked right to me. That day, I learned that God was the God of second chances.”
Keeping Faith Strong
This past summer marked Lorne’s 10th anniversary working for Athletes in Action (AIA), a Christian ministry.
“I used to work as the technical director for Baseball Canada and thought at the time that it was a great high-profile job, but where I am serving now is where I am supposed to be,” Lorne says. “I felt God calling me to team up with AIA, and they started mentoring me in 1999.
“We try to come alongside those who are pursuing their faith, and also be a beacon to those who are searching,” he continues. “Whether they are strong in their faith or just starting out, it’s so rewarding to be able to be there for them.”
Winnipeg Jets centre Mark Scheifele appreciates Lorne’s support.
“It’s hard to fit church into our schedule during hockey season, so Lorne does chapel with us,” says Mark. “That fellowship is a huge part of keeping my faith strong. The days we can get together always make it a good day.”
“Mark is our chapel leader,” says Lorne. “I’m really proud of him—he was a product of Hockey Ministries’ junior program before he came here. We have some laughs and a lot of fun. It’s so good to be around the guys because it keeps me young!”
Chaplains for AIA minister to any and all who are open to them, even the opposing teams.
“Within the CFL, the players are very receptive to our ministry,” Lorne comments. “When the Ottawa Redblacks were our visiting team, I did a chapel for them the Friday before the game. The following week, our team was in Hamilton. I know the chaplain there and knew that he would give our guys a good time of fellowship. It’s great! And this way you sometimes get to see players who used to be on your team and catch up with them.”
Calls to minister go beyond the field. Lorne and his wife, Heather, serve wherever and whenever they can.
“Heather is involved in a Bible study for the players’ wives,” he says. “We also host Pro Sports and Faith fundraisers and she’s the ‘quarterback’ for those. In addition, we have chapel every second week for the Jets’ front-office staff, and I host a coaches’ Bible study for the Blue Bombers.”
Recharge and Reload
Sometimes, real life gets in the way of pro sports.
“It’s not all fun and games,” Lorne says. “I pray with the guys in times when maybe there’s a sick relative back home and they’re feeling helpless. I’ve also had to preside over a few funerals. You become a part of those challenging times, so chaplains also need to unpack things emotionally sometimes. My pastor calls it second-hand PTSD.”
Lorne protects himself from burnout by having a good support team in place, which keeps him going strong after 10 years.
“I make sure to take breaks when needed,” he says. “I have good leadership in place when that happens. Otherwise, hockey season could run into football season, like this past spring when the Jets had a great playoff run. That makes the year really long—but you don’t complain about wins! You just recharge and reload as necessary.”