Quick: what is the highest attended sporting event in the world?
Well, according to the United States Tennis Assocation, it’s the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament which opened on Monday in Flushing Meadow, New York. Last year, over 700,000 people attended the event over its two week time span. For more on how the USTA figures that attendance, check this article out.
From 1985-1987, I actually worked for the USTA, the organization that puts on this enormous U.S. Open tournament. My title was “Coordinator of Recreational Tennis,” which meant that I was to work with parks and community centers to get tennis programs going in new venues. At the time, the USTA had an office in Princeton, New Jersy where most of its work in recreational, grass-roots development took place.
As it turned out, the best part of my job back then was getting tennis accepted as an official sport with the Special Olympics International. I actually helped write a guide book on how to teach tennis to Special Olympians. (Several years later, when I was serving as a pastor in Monroe, NC, I volunteered to teach Special Olympics tennis. The volunteer coordinator said, “Great! Here’s a guide book that will show you how to do it!” It was the one I had written!)
Something else about that job with the USTA: it helped me sense a call into ministry. In my position, I learned how to manage projects, keep files, and organize events. They don’t teach you any of that stuff in college! I realized in 1987 that those administrative & managerial skills I’d learned in the USTA would be essential to any kind of church work. That realization, along with some other things God was doing in my life at the time, led me to Asbury Seminary and ultimately to parish ministry.
So God was working in my life all along, even in ways I didn’t expect.
We Methodists call it prevenient grace — the grace that “goes before.” Look for it. It’s all around you.