As a typical Canadian boy, Bruce Gritter grew up playing ice hockey. These days, as pastor at The River Community Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta, he still plays hockey on a church team he organized.
He’s also the volunteer team chaplain of the Edmonton Oil Kings, a major junior ice hockey team. “I’m a sports guy,” he said. “I love all sports.”
For the last three years, Gritter has been volunteering his time under the auspices of Hockey Ministries International, an organization that serves the spiritual needs of players in the National Hockey League and the junior hockey leagues.
Hockey chaplaincy is a perfect fit for Gritter, not only because of his passion for hockey but also because, as he said, “I’m in the business of discipling people.” As hockey chaplain, Gritter has many opportunities to disciple young players.
The majority of the Oil Kings are teens far from home. Most have dreams of making it into the NHL and are dealing with the stress of advancing their hockey careers. “Hockey players have a lot of pressure to perform and to be perfect,” said Gritter. “We put them on a pedestal.”
Gritter offers a chapel at the arena every month and sometimes brings food after practice (they love his lasagna!). Twice a month at a local restaurant he engages in discipleship meetings with five or six of the older players. Gritter strives to minister to the Oil Kings where they are and to love them unconditionally.
“I tell them, ‘I don’t care if you get ten goals or no goals, whether you’re in in the coach’s penthouse or the coach’s doghouse, I love you.’”