Jazz chaplain has spent 3 memorable decades giving spiritual guidance to franchise's players and others
And in the priceless opportunity he's had to get acquainted with Jazz legends (and former faithful chapel attendees) Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton and Thurl Bailey, along with the privilege of rubbing chapel-service shoulders with the likes of former NBA stars Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, David Robinson, John Lucas and A.C. Green, former Jazzman and current Golden State coach Mark Jackson, current NBA stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lin, and former Jazzmen Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, among many others.
He considers them all as "high-quality people," although he laughingly admits that sometimes when players get out on the floor in the heat of battle, they act like "Mongol warriors and jerks."
Interestingly, on the night that Malone's well-placed elbow knocked Robinson out cold in a frightening incident back in 1998, Lewis recalled that the two of them had attended chapel service and held hands in prayer together with Lewis earlier that evening.
The Jazz chaplain knows his chapel service isn't for everyone, even though it is indeed offered to virtually everyone.
"Some players establish a pregame routine which precludes them from attending chapel service," Lewis said. "You learn early on not to make judgments about the players whether they're here or not. ... Anybody in the Jazz organization is invited to come.
"I don't consider my ministry here limited to just 12 guys. Anybody that is interested, I'll try to help them any way I can. I've had Muslims ask me to pray; I've had atheists, LDS, Baptists, Catholics, and those that are so confused they don't know what they are. There's a lot of those around, too.
"I give a 7- to 8-minute sermon; then we have prayer time. Players will bring in prayer needs, like 'Mom is home with the flu,' the same types of concerns that most citizens have," he continued. "They'll speak with the entire group and we pray for those who are in need. A lot of people in the arena will know I'm going to chapel and they'll say 'Hey, would you mind saying a prayer for my wife?' or 'one of my kids who broke their leg.' I've been here long enough now that a lot of people know me. They know what I'm about. So they don't hesitate to ask for a prayer. Once in a while, they'll ask me, 'Hey, would you go call on my wife or somebody who's in the hospital?' And I'll say, 'Sure, I'll be glad to.' "
Lewis' experiences have been many and memorable. He got the opportunity to perform the marriage ceremonies for Malone, Scott Layden and former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, a man who he admires greatly.
"Jerry's a real friend of mine," Lewis said of Sloan. "Our vocabularies are not always the same, but he's a man's man for what that's worth.
"One of the key words of our society today is integrity, and that man's got it. I'd trust him with anything I own — and I'd also want him on my side if I got in a fight. He was always very supportive of the chapel.
"Every team in the NBA has a chaplain, but I'm probably the most blessed and have the greatest access of anybody in the league," he said. "There's been some real rewards, but because of the fact you don't have prolonged access to the players because of their hectic schedule, it's hard to have a bible study with them. But I counsel with them, and occasionally a player will come and want to go to lunch with me."
So just how long does he plan to continue in his vital role as the Jazz team chaplain?
"Well, I just turned 75, but you might want to put in there that he looks like he's 20 years younger," Lewis said with a chuckle.
And he intends to keep serving those tremendous high-profile, professional athletes — all of them God's children, as far as Lewis is concerned — on the Lord's errand for as long as he possibly can.
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