At Divinity School, sermons mix with soccer cleats

For three consecutive years, the Paracleats — from the Divinity School — have emerged top of the Yale graduate and professional school soccer league.
For three consecutive years, the Paracleats — from the Divinity School — have emerged top of the Yale graduate and professional school soccer league. Photo by Joseph T. Patterson.

The graduate school’s reigning recreational soccer champion team has a center midfielder who teaches New Testament and a striker whose game socks say “Jesus Saves.” Its name — the Paracleats — comes from a Greek epithet for the Holy Spirit used in the Gospel of John.

The Paracleats are part of a co-ed league of Yale graduate and professional school teams that includes the Forestry School’s Shoots and Leaves and the Department of International Relations Preemptive Strikers. They have been on top for as long as anyone on the team can remember, bringing three consecutive titles to the Divinity School, with which all of its members are affiliated. And though they say that they can be as intense and competitive on the field as any other students, they credit the unique camaraderie that the Divinity School fosters with their success.

The self-officiated league includes teams from the School of Music, the Forestry School, the Law School and the Divinity School, pictured above.
Alex Peterson
The self-officiated league includes teams from the School of Music, the Forestry School, the Law School and the Divinity School, pictured above.

CHURCH AND SPORT

Midfielder Nathaniel Klug DIV ’13, a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Church of Christ, interns at a church in North Guilford, where he preaches and leads church groups. After services Sunday, he drives home and then straight to the Paracleats’ latest game.

“Usually I have a lot of energy after I preach,” he said.

Many Divinity School students and affiliates on the team work in churches, so Klug’s weekly commute is not unique. The team sometimes even has to reschedule games that are planned for early Sunday, and the school’s athletic association has been unable to start a volleyball team because the schedule posed too many conflicts with students’ Sunday commitments in churches and nonprofit organizations. (They hope to restart the volleyball team this year, with games rescheduled to Saturdays.)

Still, the team’s dedicated core — most of whom play every game of the season and attend weekly Friday practices — consistently posts a winning record.

“We play on the Lord’s Day, so that has to be to our benefit,” joked striker Micah Luce DIV ’08, who played during his years as a student and has continued to score goals for the team in his new role managing the Divinity School Student Book Supply.

Religion’s role in sports is different for each athlete, said Alex Peterson DIV ’12 who manages and plays on all the school’s sports teams.

“A lot of us mostly find spirituality in playing sports together,” he said. “There are people who find God, or find camaraderie, or friendship. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it on the field.”

Jeremy Hultin GRD ’03, the New Testament professor and an eight-year veteran of the team, said that the soccer players do not pray together before games, as their captain does not want to make assumptions about anyone’s belief or make anyone uncomfortable. Peterson said that some members might individually pray if a friend is injured on the field — but that is a practice that any sports fan knows the Paracleats share with more conventional teams.

Indeed, Paracleats players insist that they are more similar to the average athlete than they might appear.

“People might be surprised how intense our games can get,” Klug said. “We like doing well just like any other team.”

PLAYING TO WIN

A sporting event with no violence, no swearing and self-reported fouls sounds like something out of heaven, but for the Divinity School’s sports teams such behavior is commonplace, Peterson said.

“We bring a lot of passion to our games, but we hold ourselves to a very high standard,” he said. “We expect a lot from one another, and when we see that someone is coming close to getting angry or violent, we help calm the situation before it takes place. We don’t want sports to devolve. We want to enjoy the game. ”

He added that the members of the Divinity School sports teams have become close friends with their rival teams, including those at Yale Law School and the School of Music. It is difficult to swear or act negatively towards friends, Peterson said, exemplifying the general culture of camaraderie many feel the school fosters.

The high standard to which Peterson alluded extends to the rules of the games as well, he said. Since the teams lack funding for a referee, he said players routinely self-report errors or fouls.

“That’s just fine with us that we don’t have a referee because we self-call errors,” he said. “That way no one becomes angry and the situation does not escalate.”

But, according to Hultin, who plays center midfield, competitive instincts can at times push that culture of camaraderie aside.

“More than once we’ve thrown a few too many elbows in a game,” he said. “Once you’re playing, you try to win.”

Hultin, who has written a book about the ethics of obscenity in early Christianity, says he can grow frustrated on the pitch, but quickly reminds himself that he is a faculty member and should not be yelling at his teammates.

FRIENDSHIP ON THE FIELD

Although tempers can flare on the field, there is consensus on one thing: the team builds friendships and support groups.

“Not to say that other schools don’t have their own unique sense of community unique to their disciplines,” Luce said. “But it really does translate onto the field for us that folks who are so intense on a daily basis about getting behind each other and having conversation — or even disagreements — about all points theological or political play well together on the field.”

Defender Katharine Arnold DIV ’12 points to a scrimmage the team played against the School of Music when three different players sprained their ankles in quick succession. On many teams, she said, anger and dirty play might have followed such a string of injuries. But in this instance, players took a knee at each injury, helped the teammate in question off the field and carpooled to Yale HEALTH. The Paracleats’ play on that day, she said, was as good as she has ever seen it.

But sometimes camaraderie is not enough of a draw. Hultin was once trying to recruit fellow professor Willis Jenkins to substitute for the team’s regular goalkeeper one day. Jenkins was reluctant — understandably. The last time he had come out to play, a ball had shattered his glasses. In a final attempt to persuade him, Hultin sent him an email. The subject line?

“For God, for country, and for Yale.”

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