Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett High School football players and some coaches and trainers, meet most Monday nights during the football season, for a Bible study group at Level Creek United Methodist Church. North Gwinnett defensive end Anree Saint-Anour, standing, leads Monday's Bible study.
SUWANEE -- A Bible study that began in a football locker room, when fans hummed in the background during summer months, and players and coaches flowed in and out, has found a home.
The weekly, student-led study, which North Gwinnett High community coach Mike O'Rouke noticed two seasons ago, is in its second season meeting at Level Creek United Methodist Church on Monday evenings after football practice. The study comes after a meal, usually chili or barbecue, is led by a player who reads scripture and delivers a message -- regularly making a connection with a recent football game -- and takes prayer requests.
It's made up of mostly football players, but managers, trainers and other students have also attended.
"You're looking for fellowship, and there are probably some folks who are unchurched and it's probably a comfortable way to experience church," O'Rouke said.
O'Rouke, who coaches special teams and is a member of the church, said when he saw the players meeting in the locker room, he figured they needed a more suitable location. So the church offered its Family Life Center, and the combination of a good meal and hungry teenagers is unquestioned.
"It's hard to do it in a locker room, people moving around, a lot of noise," O'Rouke said. "It's hard to get any kind of continuity going. With the church being here, it made perfect sense. So we started hosting it over here. They're starving to death after practice, so we figured out a way to feed them and have fellowship at the same time."
On Monday, there were three types of chili provided by players' parents, coaches' wives or church members, and the message was delivered by sophomore defensive end Anree Saint-Amour.
Saint-Amour read from John 8, which is about a woman caught in the act of adultery, and how Jesus responds to the situation.
"Jesus stooped down to her level to save her," Saint-Amour said. "It's basically representing our lives, and how Jesus came down from heaven to die for us to save us from sin, and how he told her to go out and not sin anymore."
Saint-Amour and teammate Trevor Bramblett typically lead the study each week. In previous seasons, players like Ryan Humphries, Scotty Hosch and Saint-Amour's older brother, Manrey, have organized and led the study.
"My brother started speaking first, but I feel like God called me to speak to the team and they need someone to speak for a Bible study," Anree Saint-Amour said. "It helps them get a better personal relationship with God. Some people, their parents don't go to church, and they need to learn about the Bible, but they learn about it on their own, or don't understand, and that it could change their lives in a good way."
Level Creek senior pastor Jeremy Lawson said the church for several years had looked for ways it could connect around Suwanee and the community, but, "also the thing that that's a stone's throw away from us," referring to North Gwinnett High School.
"We're a presence for them and love them," Lawson said of the football players, and that the church is trying to be a place they could be comfortable in.
While the average week has about 20 people, the first meeting this season saw 33 attend, and Lawson said one study last year had 42 people.
"They're not normal high school students; they're the size of a Mack truck and they took up our entire family life center," Lawson said. "I wanted to let them know how glad we are to host them. It was an epiphany to me of how we really captured a need. It was a hand-and-glove fit and it worked very well."
The impact of the study has been seen in its growth, but also among individuals. O'Rouke said one player attended a study for the first time, but by the next meeting, he had read most of the New Testament.
"That's a person, I don't know if he's going to church, but he decided because of this to delve a little deeper and find out what they're talking about," O'Rouke said.
O'Rouke and Saint-Amour said they're unaware of other teams or schools having a Bible study like North's, but it's common that a local church would host a pregame meal on Friday nights.
Lawson said he's aware of almost identical situations in other states being shut down, and examples in Gwinnett County that were met with resistance and didn't work out.
"I feel like I have yet to see any church that's done this," Lawson said. "It's the first one that's been as successful as I've seen. I know a lot of churches that would, unfortunately, be skeptical. Our church has been nothing but so thrilled to offer hospitality."