Frontlines / Christians at Work: “The Sport Participation Manager”

Our series on Christians sharing their faith in the secular workplace continues here. Gavin Matthews spoke to Amy Kirkhouse who is a sport participation manager with basketballscotland.

Solas: Tell us a little about your job? What are your roles and responsibilities?

AK: I’m Amy Kirkhouse and I work for basketballscotland, which is the governing body for the sport across the whole of Scotland. We manage everything that goes on in clubs, in competitions, schools programmes and so on and I’ve worked there for five years. I’ve had several roles in basketballscotland, and I’m currently the “Participation Manager”, which means that in normal times I run programmes and initiatives to try and get more people playing basketball. Some of that is with adults, but a lot of that work is around schools, especially on the female side of the game. Getting women and girls involved in the sport is a big passion for me, so that is exciting. Of course, as basketball is an indoor team-sport, it has been particularly badly affected by the Covid-19 restrictions, so we’ve had to support clubs through all of that this year too.

Solas: What’s the best part of your job?

AK: I’m particularly keen on promoting the women and girls game, so a big part of my job recently has been writing a ‘female strategy’ to encourage their participation and identify where the game needs to change to make that happen. Actually lockdown has really moved that forward, I’ve been working on that for two years or so, but recently there have been many more opportunities to speak to clubs online and it’s been really exciting to see progress in this. I’ve done research and run events around this, and it’s something that really inspires and motivates me.

In normal times we’d run lots of competitions, which I’d be involved with too. I run the junior NBA programme, which is the youth participation strand of the NBA brand. We get loads of primary school kids involved in that, and it’s really cool to travel around the country and do those. Primary 6&7 competitions have an equal gender split, they all get great basketball kits – and they just love it! I like my office work, but I really do miss getting out and seeing those kids competitions and events.

Solas: What are some of the challenges that you face at work – and how does your faith in Christ help you to navigate those?

AK: In the first couple of years working at basketballscotland, when I was trying to settle into the role I felt very much the new person there. I was quite young, only 22, when I started, and I’m naturally quite shy, especially when it comes to meeting new people. I felt a good bit of anxiety around being in that new place, and not knowing the people, the organisation and being the ‘newbie’. That’s actually where my faith was super-helpful; because it helped me to not be overwhelmed by that, not let that define who I was, and for me at that time – being able to trust Jesus with that was significant. Everyone has peaks and troughs in their working life, and having that consistency and stability in my life that comes from my faith in Him has been helpful.

I am fortunate to have a job that I absolutely love, and very good colleagues and bosses who actually care about me – and that is great!

Solas: Do people you work with know that you are a Christian? How do they react to that?

AK: Yes, most of them do – and they’ve all learnt that I am a Christian in different ways. (I was about say ‘found out’, but that makes it sound like a secret!). When I was working in the office before lockdown, I found it quite easy to say to people that I’d been to church; when they asked what I’d been up to at the weekend. I’d say things like, “I had twenty people round at my house for a Bible-study last night!”. Some people say, “OK, cool”, others have said things like, “What?! Why would you do that with your time?!?” But generally just accept it.

Solas: Have you ever had opportunities to share your faith with people you know through work? What things have helped you to have good conversations about faith?

AK: I have had opportunities to chat to colleagues about my faith at a deeper level, but generally not in the office. The office work-ethos, and the office-banter don’t really allow those sorts of conversations to take place. It’s when we are out working at an event, or travelling –or we’re out socialising together, that more important conversations tend to happen. It’s in those contexts where you have more time, you get to know people better, to ask questions and to find out what people think.

I sometimes worry what people will say, or what they will think – or what I will say if they ask a question that I don’t know the answer to. But in fact, all the chats that I’ve had with people have been really positive, and people are really interested. A lot of people have got a little background knowledge, from attendance at Sunday School or from a Christian grandmother, or from Scouts attached to a church; and so they sometimes connect that with what I’m saying.

Each conversation I have had has been different too. Some have been disheartening, while others have been really encouraging. There have been one or two where I have felt threatened by what people have said, but generally they have been positive. So when I feel anxious about having a conversation about my faith, I have to remind myself that this is fine, and that you’re just telling people who you are and what you believe in. And people actually really appreciate that, and they find the fact that I have convictions about things interesting. I think they are especially intrigued to hear Christian convictions coming from a younger person.

Solas: Did you deliberately set about to have these conversations, or did they occur naturally?

AK: A bit of a mix! Usually I would happily wait until things come up naturally. Although recently, since March I’ve had some of the best conversations when I’ve been slightly more intentional about it. Perhaps there is something about being online when you feel a bit less inhibited maybe! We did a team exercise on a Zoom call in which we were all asked to share something we’d been doing under lockdown that was helping us maintain mental wellbeing. So it wouldn’t make sense for me not to talk about prayer. So I mentioned to a couple of Christian friends that this team call was coming up, and they encouraged me to be honest and share. Then my flat-mate prayed with me before the call. I was quite nervous because I felt quit exposed; but I did the call and spoke about praying. I thought everyone would think I was a complete weirdo, but actually one of my colleagues texted me and said that he’d like to chat further about that – which we did. So, for me, it would have been weird not to have been honest on that call. So speaking intentionally about my faith actually opened the door for further conversations.

Solas: Do folks ever raise objections when you talk about your faith?

AK: Well I have colleagues who have opinions, and definitely know what they do and don’t believe. And then some who have had bad experiences of church or Christians, and not been afraid to say that to me either – which I actually appreciate. I’m not naturally an argumentative person, but we have had honest conversations about what we believe and the differences there. No-one has responded in a really aggressive way, or anything like that, but they’ve definitely disagreed and we’ve had more robust conversations, which is good! I actually prefer that to apathy, you can’t go anywhere with the apathy that just says “cool”, shrugs its shoulders and wanders off!

Solas: Why do you want to talk to colleagues and friends about Jesus?

AK: Well one reason is that I have been placed where I have to work, and to do my work well and please God in that. The other is that I’m there to build relationships with my colleagues to share with them. And if I really believed what I believe – then I would probably share things a whole lot more readily! But when little opportunities come up, the more I get to know my colleagues, and the more I grow in my own faith – the more willing I am to share. It actually makes no sense to me, not to share my faith because it is so central to who I am. Not to share that with the people who I spend more time with than anyone else would actually be ridiculous. That doesn’t mean it is easy, but it makes sense. Of course Jesus calls us to share what we believe too, and Christians all go about that in different ways. I am always trying to work out how to do that in ways that are both natural and intentional.

Solas:  What advice would you give a young Christian entering your field of work who wants to be faithful to Christ there?

AK: If a young Christian was coming to start out in my role, I’d advise them to be natural and honest about who they really from the very start. Don’t hide your faith, but be honest about who you are! Don’t be weird about it, but on the other hand, just don’t hide. Early on, take opportunities to drop things into conversation such as your church, or other things which will open up opportunities. I wish I had done that a bit earlier on, and been a bit more open from the start; rather than having to sort-of catch up, and bring into the conversation who I really was. So while you are new in the office, don’t be pushy and get ahead of yourself; but equally don’t present a version of yourself-minus-your-faith, which is misleading. If someone asks, answer honestly, you do not need to hide.

Solas: Thanks Amy!