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Churches looking to fill the pews on Super Bowl Sunday keep an eye on the ball

Pass the plate and watch the ball

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where football season is observed with religious fervor, churches must be savvy to fill pews on the high holy day of Super Bowl Sunday.

Pastors in Washington and Colorado know the score: They are adjusting their service schedules for the big game and leading their own friendly competitions between Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos fans.

"I think that the main thing behind it is we can't take ourselves too seriously," said Barry Crane, pastor of North Sound Church in Edmonds, Wash. "This is twice in Seattle Seahawks' history that they've made it to the Super Bowl. Just because you go to church normally on a Sunday doesn't mean you're immune to fun.

"The church is part of the community, the whole community has gone crazy. We're just participating as part of the community. We're doing our part."

Mr. Crane received a bit of criticism last year when he moved a morning service earlier because of a playoff game for Seattle, but he said the plan this year is to host a tailgate breakfast after the first service and a tailgate lunch after the second.

Some churches in Washington and Colorado are hosting Super Bowl viewing parties and tailgate meals. Others, including Arvada Church of Christ in Arvada, Colo., have canceled Sunday evening services for the big game, which will start about 4:30 p.m. MST.

At Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., the congregation will take part in a "Souper Bowl of Caring" event. The church is trying to raise $4,800 (for Super Bowl XLVIII) and collect 4,800 pounds of food.

"We've been doing that probably the last five or six years," said the Rev. Ronald Glusenkamp, Bethany Lutheran's pastor.

Mr. Glusenkamp said it's important for people to balance their faith with an exciting event like the Super Bowl, but there are ways to tie it to life lessons.

"There are certain times culture can teach the church something," he said, referencing Broncos fans' "United in Orange" campaign. "The Broncos are one thing. Well, we are all on God's team. Something God's team can teach the world is, when you throw a big party, let's make sure there's room at the table for everyone."

Helping put food on that table — and waging a good-natured battle across state lines — are more than 100 Methodist churches in Denver and Seattle.

The Rev. Bradley Laurvick, senior pastor at Highlands United Methodist Church in Denver, said the challenge started with a comment he posted on Facebook asking for anyone looking to "make this interesting" while his church collected food.

"Peyton Manning knows all of Denver supports him when he steps out on the field," Mr. Laurvick said. "We want every hungry family in Colorado to feel the same kind of support — that there are people behind them, supporting them."

His Seattle counterpart, the Rev. Monica Corsaro of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, answered the challenge. On Sunday, both churches totaled their donations as their "half-time score" and will aim to collect even more this Sunday to win.

"We both had the attitude of who's going to say no to doing good for others," Ms. Corsaro said.

In South Carolina, senior pastor Perry Noble said his 14-year-old NewSpring Church will hold its Sunday evening service on Saturday to accommodate the football-watching masses.

An effective missionary will study a culture, find what is important and use it to reach as many people as possible, he said. In the U.S., that includes the Super Bowl.

"I believe by taking our Sunday night service and moving it to Saturday night, we're being effective missionaries in our culture," Mr. Noble said. "It allows us to reach as many people as we can with a message. People enjoy it more. They don't have to choose between church and the Super Bowl. I think it's a way more effective method of reaching people. We could still do church on Sunday night. We'd prove a point, but wouldn't make a difference."

The championship game will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., where few churches say they are making Super Bowl-related plans.

The Rev. Dwight Darnell Gill of New Hope Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J., has a theory for the perceived lack of interest.

"Probably because there's no East Coast teams in the Super Bowl, you have one of the largest cities on the East Coast not concerned about it," Mr. Gill said with a laugh. "There's not a lot of energy toward the Seahawks and the Broncos. But there is a lot of energy in the area about football."

That energy is what inspired his church to host an "NFL" (for "New Found Life") service for nearly a decade, in which congregants wear the jerseys of their favorite football teams. It encourages male attendance and removes the pressure of having to dress up for church.

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