Every week at an indoor basketball centre in Sydney’s Castle Hills, a group of women gather briefly to pray before their evening game.
Five years ago nine young women were growing out of their parish youth ministry activities and getting busier juggling working and family lives.
They shared an interest in basketball and decided to form a team through which they could continue to journey together in faith.
They chose the name Embers, as they were inspired to be like “little embers in an often darkened world” said team member Gelina Montierro.
“We were keen to share the joy of sisterhood, our love for God and our love for basketball.”
That ember of an idea has spontaneously inflamed a growing community of people, most Catholic and all Christian, who mutually support, encourage and challenge one another on and off the court.
According to the Mission Australia Youth Survey Report 2017 sport is the number one activity that young people choose to invest their free time in, with 75% of those surveyed playing as a participant and 65% involved as a spectator.
Religious groups and activities, in comparison, saw a 29% attendance.
The Embers model is filling that gap with its winning blend of Christian hope and shooting hoops, and is now a faith-based sports ministry with two teams, volunteer coaches and an annual camp.
“Part of our ministry is to reach young people where they invest their energy, whether it’s those on the team or those we compete against,” said Gelina.
This month 19 Embers players and coaches spent a weekend focused on prayer, skills training, fellowship, talks on faith and life and a Mass celebrated on the court by Fr Thomas McFadden OFMCap.
“Being part of a sports team hasn’t been the easiest journey, but over time virtues that we’ve developed on the court and in the context of our team ‘Embers’ have translated into our everyday lives,” said Gelina.
“The cardinal virtues have become more real for us as we practice prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice.
“For me personally it makes brings a fullness to life just knowing that I have a consistent group there where we pray with and for each other and keep each other in check in terms of the way we are growing in our own virtues.”
Team member Qwyane Guevara said the community has been “a real gift” and she has enjoyed “watching something that was very intentional become quite organic in its growth”.
“I think it’s really the Holy Spirit that has led us to open it up to more women,” she said.
“For me it’s a place where I am being nourished, and being in the basketball competition enforces consistency because you have to rock up to the game each week.
“It can be hard on the court sometimes, it can get quite feisty, people talk back at you and push you around, but we encourage a spirit of good sportsmanship.”
Coach Philip Jamolin said that the Embers are no pushovers on the court and the more experienced team is undefeated so far this season.
“They play really hard but also really fair and are Christian on and off the court,” he said.
“The great thing about watching them is that it’s clear that to them, whoever they are playing are not just their competition but first and foremost people, and there’s a right way to win and right way to lose.
“The thing is to make sure that we humbly win and humbly lose.”