- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

HAGERSTOWN, Md. There is a place for worship and a place for football, and on Super Bowl Sunday, the sanctuary of the Broadfording Brethren Bible Church is both.
For the third consecutive year, the Rev. R. William Wyand will replace his pulpit with a big-screen TV and invite people to watch the game from the padded pews. A potluck buffet opens when the pre-game service ends.
"Basically, what you're trying to do is take something that has become a very recognized event and use it to enhance what you're trying to accomplish as a church," Mr. Wyand said. The goal is fellowship, or "coming together as the body of Christ."
"I truly believe Christians can have a wonderful time together without violating our biblical standards and principles," he said.
Faith and sport are not strangers. The athletic virtues of physical fitness and fair play conform to major religions, and many top athletes credit their success partly to spiritual devotion.
The Super Bowl of Caring, a South Carolina-based anti-hunger group, collects donations outside churches on Super Bowl Sundays. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes sells a Super Bowl party kit that includes NFL stars' videotaped testimonials to be played during halftime.
But some say that putting football literally on an altar approaches sports worship.
"I just don't think that's appropriate," said the Rev. Bobby Cain of the First Baptist Church of Hitchcock, Texas. Although his church held a Super Bowl party with a halftime service in its gymnasium under another pastor in 2001, Mr. Cain doesn't like even seeing food in the sanctuary.
"When I was a kid, you didn't even talk out loud in the church before service. You came and you were quiet. It seems we've lost that in a lot of our churches, a reverence that used to be," he said.
Mr. Wyand, 37, a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, argues that church members live in the world, not apart from it. The carpeted sanctuary is also open for cheerleading practice and drama rehearsals by students at Broadfording Christian Academy, a school affiliated with the independent, 175-member church.
"We try to treat our buildings with respect, but these are just buildings," Mr. Wyand said. "Basically, from our standpoint, the church is made up of people."
That's why Mr. Wyand, troubled by a 30 percent to 50 percent drop in attendance at the regular evening service on Super Bowl Sundays, brought the game into the church. Wayward members, including Robert Jackson, followed, boosting attendance last year to a near-normal three dozen.
"To me, it was an advantage to see the Super Bowl and praise the Lord at the same time," said Mr. Jackson, 60, a car dealership personnel manager. "This is one way the church can reach out and help people come to the understanding that this does not need to be a competition between God and materialistic things of the world."
Still, it's not a typical Super Bowl party. There's no alcohol, and Mr. Wyand keeps one hand on the remote to switch channels or mute objectionable material. Last year, he turned off the halftime entertainment, led by U2, and said he'll probably also veto the show this year, featuring Shania Twain.
There's no preaching during the game, but Mr. Wyand plans a pre-game talk on Christian teamwork. He also hopes to use dramatic developments on the playing field as life lessons for his four sons, ages 2 to 12, while keeping his own emotions in check.

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