Friars’ Briar keeps faith fun and on the ice

 — Mar. 23, 201223 mars 2012

While the Tim Hortons Brier is going on at the Credit Union Centre, a concurrent national curling event will take place at the Nutana Curling Club. That event is the Friars’ Briar, a bonspiel for clergy from all denominations and regions of Canada.

The Friars’ Briar is national in theory, says Augustana Lutheran Pastor David Hunter, chair of the local clergy curling club, “but in reality, we have participants from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and one or two from Wisconsin.”

The name Friars’ Briar was originally coined by a reporter in Winnipeg. The association liked it, but was informed by the Canadian Mens’ Curling Championship Brier organization they couldn’t use the word brier, so the spelling was changed to briar to avoid legal issues.

The Friars’ Briar always takes place wherever the Brier is being hosted. Hunter says one of the perks that brings is the opportunity clergy curlers have to take in at least one live Brier game.

The Friars’ Briar was established in 1978 by an Ontario clergyman, Rev. Don Amos, at a time when there was much rhetoric about Quebec separatism and Western alienation. Amos wanted to encourage national unity among clergy and build ecumenical harmony within the Christian community at the same time.

Hunter says: “The Briar provides a context for those who may not see eye-to-eye theologically to enjoy one another’s company through curling.”

Saskatoon clergy curlers play at the Nutana Curling Club on Monday mornings, “which is traditionally when ministers have a day off.” The local club has 10 teams and about 40 curlers. Not all are clergy.

“We’ve opened it up more to make sure the league remains viable and competition is interesting,” Hunter says. “There are more stringent rules for Friars’ Briar eligibility. To play in the Friars’ Briar, you have to be clergy to play skip. To play second or third, you have to be family of clergy, a church worker or a member of the Clergy Curling Club. Anyone can play lead.”

The local clergy curling league currently has players from the Lutheran, Anglican, United, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite and Presbyterian churches. Play begins as soon as the ice goes in (usually October) and goes until April.

The Friars’ Briar event begins on Monday with an afternoon draw. Former Saskatchewan premier and United Church minister Lorne Calvert will throw the ceremonial first stone.

Among clergy, the throwing of the first stone is something of an inside joke. It relates to the New Testament account of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus for punishment. Jesus said to her self-righteous accusers, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone.”

Hunter says every curler in the bonspiel will play one game on Monday and two on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Shaw Television will televise the final game on Friday.

Twenty-two teams have registered, and eight are from Saskatoon.

There are three events with gold, silver and bronze medals and trophies on which the winners’ names are engraved, “but we play mainly for honour,” David Hunter smiles.

“The Briar is competitive. Some take it fairly seriously, but mostly it’s an opportunity for fun and fellowship. There are small cash prizes for the first three events and we have travel subsidies for those who come the farthest.

“The prize money comes from entry fees and a few local sponsors. We’ve raised over $5,000 from sponsors this year.”

Three weeks before the Briar, the club held the Prior Friars’ Briar, which operates on a skins format with each end worth one dollar. Winners received gift certificates to the Broadway Café and Doc Hollandaise (located in the Nutana Curling Club building). The standings, however, had nothing to do with qualifying for the Friars’ Briar.

“It was more a practice run for teams,” Hunter says, “and a lot of fun.”

Hunter has been in Friars’ Briar medal play four different times.

“An event like this brings out the best in your curling ability,” he says. “Sometimes you make shots you wouldn’t normally make. At the last Briar, for instance, the opposition had four rocks spread all over the house. I hit one that cleared out all four. I would certainly call that a miracle.”

Unlike the Brier, the Friars’ Briar is a free event to view, and the participants welcome spectators. Games are scheduled at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and on Friday morning.

The Nutana Curling Club is located at 2002 Arlington Ave.

Posted: Mar. 23, 2012 • Permanent link:
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