Sports broadcaster Jerry Howarth, of Sportsnet 590 The Fan, has been the radio voice of the Toronto Blue Jays for almost 33 years. He is also a committed reborn Christian and an Anglican-not by birth or design but by pastor.
Howarth, 68, is a longstanding member of the congregations of the Rev. Canon Allan Budzin, first at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church and now at St. Phillip’s, in the west-end Toronto district of Etobicoke.
Raised a Roman Catholic in San Francisco, Howarth became a born-again Christian in 1987, committing his life to Jesus in the midst of the competitive, testosterone-fuelled arena of professional baseball.
But that rededication came long after Howarth graduated in 1968 from Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, with a degree in economics and philosophy-and long after he served two years in the U.S. Army in Frankfurt, Germany, during the Viet Nam War, and also long after he left law school at the University of California to take a job in college athletic fundraising at his Jesuit alma mater.
Howarth loved to play sports, but his talent lay more in commentary so eventually his career path would turn to sportscasting, a role he played with teams from Tacoma to Salt Lake City and, by 1981, in Toronto. And his spiritual path would broaden from the formalities of liturgy to a close personal relationship with Christ.
“When I was growing up, we attended church every Sunday as a Catholic family, and that was my introduction to God,” says Howarth, his vowels still hinting at his American birth. “But I had never heard of having a personal friendship with Jesus Christ.”
That concept came to him in 1985 when Blue Jays pitcher Gary Lavelle spoke to him openly and unpretentiously about having a life with Jesus and asked him if he read the Bible, which he did not. On Lavelle’s advice he bought a copy of the New International Version and began, as the pitcher suggested, by reading one of the 31 sections of the Book of Proverbs every day for a month. “The seed was planted,” Howarth recalls.
A couple of years later, at major league spring training camp in Florida, he began to attend a Bible class on Monday nights. “After a month, I made a decision to become a Christian and have Christ in my heart,” he recalls. “I asked for forgiveness and became a born-again Christian.”
So how did Howarth wend his way from Catholicism and reborn Christianity to Anglicanism? The key to this is Budzin, his beloved pastor, who formerly served as a Roman Catholic priest at St. Gregory’s, right across the street from the Howarths’ residence. “We went to hear him speak. We enjoyed listening to him. He touched my heart,” says Howarth.
So when Budzin became an Anglican priest, the Howarths followed him to his new parish. “Being a Christian is not about a building. It’s not about a form of worship. It’s about having Jesus in your heart,” Howarth says. That’s why he maintains he is not technically an Anglican but rather “a Christian who goes to an Anglican church because of the priest who brings such spiritual enrichment to my life.”
Budzin says that Howarth, who by his own admission doesn’t “wear his Christianity on his sleeve, “is a genuine witness to the gospel of Jesus. “Across the board-at home, with his family, in the church, at work and at the high school where he coaches basketball, the presence of Jesus make a lot of difference in his life,” says Budzin. “Jerry gets up with the intention of living each day according to the teachings of Jesus.”
But Howarth is mindful of his shortcomings. If he has a guiding biblical passage, it’s the chastening words of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord.”
That passage helps him to refocus his energy and retarget his efforts toward a life guided by Christ’s gospel. “I’m always asking God to pick me up,” Howarth says. “Each night, when my head hits the pillow, I give thanks and say, ‘If I see tomorrow, let me go out and love, praise and serve the Lord.'”