Sharing your faith can happen anywhere, says Texas roller derby pastor
By Lindsay Peyton
Strapping on her skates and heading into the rink for a roller derby match, she becomes Slaydie Hawkins, number 23 on the Spindletop Rollergirls team. The rest of the time, however, everyone knows her as Rev. Sadie Brink, the Senior Pastor at Silsbee FUMC. She explains that roller derby provides an outlet for camaraderie, for promoting health and for evangelism, far outside her church walls.
Joining a roller derby team was not something Brink would have ever imagined. Before seeing an ad for a bootcamp on Facebook, she had not even roller skated since childhood. The only exposure she had to the sport was watching the movie “Whip It” in 2009.
Still, in the fall of 2017, Brink signed up for the 10-week session that promised to teach her everything she needed to know about roller derby. “I fell in love with it almost immediately,” she said.
Brink had just received her first appointment to ministry in Port Arthur, Texas and was serving as Associate Pastor at United Methodist Temple, Texas. She was completely new to the area. Signing up for the roller derby bootcamp would be a fun way to exercise and meet more people, she reasoned.
“I was not sure what to expect, but I was fully committed,” Brink said. “It ended up being worth it.”
Practice was at Manning’s Texas on Wheels in Beaumont. Before long, Brink found a whole new group of friends. “Roller derby is such a welcoming community,” she said. “I’ve never met a nicer group of people. And it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are, someone’s there with an encouraging word.”
As soon as the bootcamp ended, Brink tried out for the team. Before long, she was a regular at the Spindletop Rollergirls’s bouts, or roller derby games.
Team members come from all over and some travel from Louisiana to participate. When Brink was appointed to Silsbee UMC last summer, she decided to continue commuting to practice.
“We span a wide geographical distance, and we come from all walks of life,” Brink said.
There are social workers and a museum curator on the team. Brink said that clergy need to find a support group and a means for release. Joining a sport like roller derby can be a positive force in both physical and mental health.
“As pastors, we really need a place where we can be ourselves,” she said. “We need a group of people we can just be friends with, whether that’s roller derby or a group of friends from college. It’s important that pastors have a place to go that’s unrelated to work.”
While COVID-19 placed practice and competitions on hold, Brink looks forward to reuniting with her team on the rink. In the meantime, they all stay connected online and by phone. “We all miss each other and want to play,” she said.
Brink looks forward to practice, bouts and even just joining her teammates to skate down a trail.
“All ages and stages can do it,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons I like roller derby. It’s so inclusive. It doesn’t matter your age or your size. If you want to put in the effort to be a part of the team, we have a space for you.”
Before the pandemic, Brink said parishioners were often in the audience during her bouts. “It’s something people find interesting,” she said. “It’s not something a pastor usually does.”
She also enjoys being a role model for girls, who see strong women competing in the roller derby. “We don’t have a lot of places where women can be positive, fierce role models,” she said. “They look at us and think, ‘That can be me one day.’”
Brink does not always tell others in roller derby that she is a pastor – at least not right away. “I want people to get to know me and know that I love and care for them no matter what their lives are like,” she said.
She explained that often the crowd at roller derby have negative past experiences related to religion. “A lot of roller derby folks don’t fit the societal or stereotypical role and often they’ve been hurt by the church,” she said.
When they realize that Slaydie is Pastor Sadie, she hopes they can form a better picture of what a pastor can be. “It changes some people’s perceptions a little to know what a pastor can look like,” she said.
Already, friends from roller derby have asked Brink to officiate at their weddings. Sometimes, she added, sharing faith can happen in surprising places – even a roller rink.
“Whatever you do, the best way to evangelize is just by being yourself, just being a Christian and loving God,” she said. “Who we are and how we act conveys how God works more than words can ever say.”