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Ravens' early kickoff time a pain for some, a blessing for others

The Rev. Chris Whatley, of St. Mark's parish in Catonsville, celebrates mass with the Ravens before home games. With the Ravens in London this Sunday, that won't be the case. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Sunday business suffers at public golf courses in the fall, and not just because the days are shorter or the weather is less balmy.

Joe Rahnis, director of golf operations for Baltimore County Golf, says his customers are busy watching the Ravens.

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It's not shaping up to be a problem this Sunday.

With the Ravens in London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars this weekend, game time will be 9:30 a.m. locally — more than three hours ahead of the rest of the NFL slate. At Baltimore County Golf, Rahnis says, bookings are up.

For many in the region, the unusual start time will be a boon, for others a challenge. Bars and restaurants will open early to welcome TV-watching fans. Churches will see shifts in attendance.

When the Ravens depart from the norm, it creates ripples.

"College football doesn't affect us," Rahnis says. "Even when the major golf tournaments are on, there's almost no impact. Pro football moves the needle."

Hard-core football fans are accustomed to all-day purple-and-black-themed revelry, of course, with home-game tailgates starting as early as 8 a.m. before 1 o'clock games.

This Sunday, many bars and restaurants are set to open unusually early.

Chug-a-Mug Sports Bar and Grill in Middle River will welcome customers at 7 a.m. And the doors at Johanssons Dining House in Westminster, the home of Ravens Roost #115, the team's local fan club, will open at 8:30 rather than the usual 10, and Raven maniacs will be welcomed in a reserved seating section and a big-top tent.

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As game time approaches, local pastors are thinking about a different kind of service.

The Rev. Christopher Whatley isn't just the longtime pastor at St. Mark Church in Catonsville; he served as ad hoc Catholic chaplain for the Ravens under the late Coach Ted Marchibroda. He has the same role under current head coach John Harbaugh.

When the Ravens play at home, Whatley celebrates Mass for players downtown at 8:30, then returns to his parish in time to lead his usual 11:00 service.

St. Mark hosts five Masses per weekend — a vigil on Saturday, three on Sunday morning, and a final one Sunday evening.

The 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday services are normally the best attended, Whatley says, averaging between 450 and 500 worshippers. But once the NFL season begins, the crowds for those thin noticeably, as they tend to overlap with tailgating and TV viewing.

The Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening Masses absorb much of the spillover, Whatley says.

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Ravens mania is more or less a constant in the parish. Many in the pews sport not only their favorite team's colors, but also expressions reflecting the team's fortunes.

That's especially true at the Sunday 5 p.m. service, which many attend straight from home games. Depending on the result, Whatley says, "they come in with long faces, or they float in like the angels."

This weekend, he anticipates fewer worshippers at the 9 and 11 services and fuller pews at all the others.

"I would daresay that given how the season has begun" — the team is 2-0 — "there will be a great deal of interest in this particular game."

Faith and football also collide at the Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, according to its senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant.

In a congregation with 60 percent female membership, Bryant says, it's already a challenge getting men to attend regularly. The widespread passion for football doesn't help.

"I absolutely talk about this from the pulpit," he says. "I'll talk about how it's women who scream in the pulpit, but men who scream in the stadium. It's not that men don't know how to worship or shout. It's a question of what they'll worship or shout about."

During the NFL season, Bryant says, the men who do come tend to flock to the 7:30 service, because so many bolt straight to the stadium afterwards for tailgating and football.

Fewer show up at the 11:30 service, with kickoff time drawing near.

He's not sure how this week's game time will affect his second service, which begins at the same time as kickoff.

He hopes it isn't much.

Bryant has been vocal in advocating a boycott of the NFL over the unemployment of Colin Kaepernick. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback sparked a storm last season by choosing not to stand during the national anthem in what he said was a protest against racial injustice in the United States.

Kaepernick, a free agent, has yet to land a spot with another team. Bryant and others say he has been blacklisted by NFL owners.

Bryant has worn a 49ers jersey in the pulpit and urges congregants to boycott the league.

If they heed his call, he says, perhaps he'll see some extra people on Sunday.

"I'm hopeful that my membership will line up with their pastor," he says.

In Baltimore County, golfers will be lining up to tee off. With the Ravens' game likely to end at about 12:30 local time, they'll have most of the afternoon to hit the links.

Rahnis, the golf director, says he has already sold 200 more rounds than were played last weekend, when the Ravens played the Browns at home.

At New Hope Community Church in Catonsville, associate pastor Joe Miller is trying to keep things as normal as he can.

The evangelical preacher says his Ravens-loving congregation that will see no departure from their usual worship practice.

"There are times when we have to prioritize what needs to be prioritized," he says. "We're not going to alter the time of church. Our service is at 10 o'clock."

Still, Miller is only human — not to mention a Ravens fan. He plans to set up a television inside the church and turn it on as soon as the service is over.

"I think we'll all be interested to see what the score is," he says.

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