Early on a January Sunday morning at Lawrence Park Community Church, Jerry Howarth walks up to the podium and begins to talk about a moment in Tacoma, Wash. that changed his life.
Howarth, the radio voice of Toronto Blue Jays for more than 30 years, was the first of seven sports personalities to address the Bayview Avenue congregation in a January speaker series entitled Sports and Spirituality.
Church pastor John Suk had the speakers — all luminaries in hockey, baseball, soccer, cycling, figure skating or squash, and representing varied faith journeys — tell their stories in Sunday or Wednesday sessions that explored how faith shapes sporting lives.
Howarth described a journey where he followed his heart.
Professionally, he decided to leave law school after only one year to pursue what he really loved: sports broadcasting. Spiritually, another awakening was waiting for him in Tacoma in 1974.
“I’m in Cheney Stadium, home of the Tacoma Twins, and the pitch came in,” recalled Howarth, with an inviting smile and focused eyes. “I call a foul ball down the left field line.
“I’ve done that a thousand times. A million times. But after that foul ball, in my head there was a little voice that said ‘Without me, this is meaningless.’ And I called the next pitch.”
A silence fell upon the room as he spoke.
Once he finished the game, Howarth said, he set out to a local church to pray.
“I dropped on my knees and said, ‘God, without you this is meaningless. I dedicate the rest of my career, whatever that is, to love, praise and serve the Lord.’”
It was from that moment on, the congenial broadcaster said, he strove to strike a balance between his life and his faith.
He said in his interactions with men like former Blue Jay stars Joe Carter, Vernon Wells and Tony Fernandez he would see men who have been able to stay level-headed and humble while continuing to work hard in their careers, despite hardships.
Suk said the speaking series, which began on Jan. 12 and was to run until Jan. 29, was intended to uncover spiritual insight on secular realities.
An avant-garde pastor who made waves with the 2011 publication of Not Sure, a book declaring his doubts about his own faith, Suk believes sports and spirituality are intertwined. Loyalty to a faith, he says, is not that different from loyalty to a local sports team.
“We think spirituality, and we’re not picky about whose spirituality or what kind of spirituality, but we think spirituality is an indispensable part of human nature,” Suk said on Jan. 12. “And that means it impacts whatever humans do, so let’s just think about that for a minute.”
Howarth says he has been thinking about it for decades, and has always wanted to put his faith in real terms. At the end of the day, he said, it is about recognizing who you are and who you want to be as a person and as a believer.
“Tony (Fernandez) said one thing to me I never forgot,” Howarth told his audience. “‘Jerry, you work as if everything depends
on you, and pray as if everything depends on God.’
“That was one of the best moments for me in my spiritual life, as a baseball broadcaster, to hear that and then put it in play.”
Other speakers in this series
[list]Paul Henderson, hero of the 1972 Summit SeriesJonathan Power, national squash championDave Fisher, former Blue Jays chaplainJason DeVos, broadcaster and soccer starJosee Choiunard, three-time national figure skating champCurt Hartnett, Olympic cyclist[*]Maria Toorpakai, squash player, TEDx talker[/list]
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