Chaplaincy at the Olympics
Baptist minister the Revd John Boyers reports from the Faith Rooms of the London 2012 Olympics Athletes' Village
"You're a chaplain?" remarked the 'gamesmaker' (2012 speak for volunteer) "So we have chaplains at the Olympics, then?" I explained that we did, and why we did.
Embedded within the foundational documents of the International Olympic Movement is the provision for the spiritual needs of the athletes. Over the last three decades, this has been expressed via a multi-faith chaplaincy. It is the responsibility of the local organising committee to deliver this 'religious' provision which is focussed on the 'faith centre' / 'religious services centre' / 'multi-faith area' as it is variously called.
I personally have been invited to be part of several 'major sports event chaplaincy' teams - at Commonwealth Games, Paralympic, winter and summer Olympic Games and others.
This was initially thanks to the vision of St James Road Baptist Church, Watford, which I served in different roles 1977 -1990. They affirmed and encouraged my beginnings in sports chaplaincy via a part time commitment to Watford FC, which became a springboard for later international sports ministry involvements.
Also, it was significantly thanks to the vision of BUGB Mission Department, who in 1990 asked me to pioneer chaplaincy in sport, which led to the setting up of SCORE and enabled a full time focus on sports chaplaincy delivery and development.
As a denomination we should remember and acknowledge the huge significance of our Home Mission support for SCORE - recently renamed as 'Sports Chaplaincy UK' - which grew to a network of over 225 chaplains serving professional sports clubs around the UK. Our BUGB has played a vital role in the development of inter-denominational sports chaplaincy across the UK.
Here at the London Olympics the 'multi-faith centre' is situated in the best suite of facilities I have ever served in as a Games chaplain. The excellence of the rooms is largely due to the work of Revd Canon Duncan Green, who over five years ago was employed by the Church of England to be an 'Olympic Tsar', to co-ordinate the C of E Ministry to the 2012 Games.
He worked hard to become embedded in the LOCOG machine, which came to trust and value his enthusiasm, his servant-heartedness and his 'religious perspectives'. For the last three or four years he has worked for LOCOG, to became the head of all multi-faith chaplaincy services for the whole Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Over that time - encouraged by the Revd Malcolm Bradshaw, Anglican Chaplain to Athens, Greece and its Islands in 2004, who valued my input to ATHOC and the Athens 2004 Chaplaincy - he consulted regularly about games chaplaincy and valued the documents I provided from previous games, and newly written material for 2012.
His long-term, day to day involvement with LOCOG led to management showing trust and support, enabling some excellent preparations on 2012 chaplaincy.
There are around 160 chaplains serving both games - about 110 in the Olympics and 50 in the Paralympics. All needed to be interviewed before being offered a role, then trained - generic, venue- and role-specific training - before being granted accreditation, provided with uniform and then deployed.
The chaplaincy began on 9 July when the Athletes' Village opened officially, on a 9.00am till 5.00pm basis. By 16 July the pace had quickened - two shifts per day - 07.00am till 3.00pm and 2.00pm till 10.00am. By 20 July a group of experienced international chaplains had been through the LOCOG training process to join the teams which till then had been composed of local, London-based faith leaders and sports chaplains from around the UK, thus bringing world-wide experience of Olympic chaplaincy to the faith centre.
The Games Chaplaincy has to provide 'religious expression' for those of the 5 main faiths - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism - so each day there are times for prayer, worship, reflection and meditation in the rooms reserved for these faiths. We also have a neutral room for those following other religious inclinations, for whom we might 'day-pass' appropriate religious leaders in for one-off services, if requested.
We try to be a friendly presence in the Athletes' Village, without getting under anyone's feet and to respond to interest and enquiries rather than be overtly proactive or forceful. We remind all that proselytism is not allowed by any faith group, and that chaplaincy in the Olympics has to follow the agreed and defined parameters.
Some have asked how someone with my strong Christian convictions is able to work in such a multi-faith environment, why I don't leave this to others. My response is that though it is a testing place for Christian ministry, that fact does not require Christian ministers to abandon this sphere of work.
Others have asked why I still work here if I am not allowed to engage in overt evangelism. That question reveals a lack of understanding of Christian ministry: service, care, being salt and light in a tasteless and dark world, living a clean life in a dirty society are all important.
Indeed my own conversion as a student came not initially through 'confrontational preaching' but via the interest, friendship and support shown by Christians, which caused me to consider what was different about these people.
Showing God's love and compassion in this needy world does have an impact!
I also remember the comment of Graham, a car salesman from my Watford Church (and head-hunted by a national company for his car sales skills): increased sales pressure also increases sales resistance. I have found that applies to Christian mission and ministry too.The chaplaincy is a small part of what The Lord is doing through these games, but we believe it is a significant part. We also believe if we serve well, with wisdom, integrity and sensitivity, LOCOG will appreciate the work done, and will pass on positive comments to those planning for the future games in Rio in 2016 and beyond that.
Pray that we who are Christian chaplains will serve the Lord - and these games - effectively at both the Olympics and the following Paralympics.
And do pray for us!
FOR EFFECTIVE, SENSITIVE MINISTRY BY CHAPLAINS TO PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT NATIONS AND CULTURES
FOR SAFETY AND SECURITY FOR ALL INVOLVED IN THE GAMES
FOR GOD'S KINGDOM TO BE BUILT THROUGH THE MINISTRY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHAPLAINS
FOR THE LOCOG MANAGEMENT TO FEEL POSITIVE ABOUT THE WORK OF 2012 CHAPLAINCY ONCE THE GAMES ARE OVER - FOR A POSITIVE LEGACY TOWARDS SPORTS CHAPLAINCY IN YEARS TO COME!
FOR GOD'S BLESSING ON THE FUTURE WORK OF SPORTS CHAPLAINCY UK OF SPORTS CHAPLAINS!
FOR LOCAL CHURCHES TO SEE THE VALUE OF RELEASING MINISTERS FOR MINISTRY INTO THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITIES, INTO THE WIDER WORLD.
The Revd John K Boyers is International Director, Sports Chaplaincy UK; Chaplain, Manchester United FC; Ministry Team member, Altrincham Baptist Church