More than four million visitors are expected to arrive in London during this summer's Olympic Games. More Than Gold, an ecumenical charity originally launched during the 1996 Atlanta Games, is recruiting and training 1,000 volunteer 'Games Pastors', who will be deployed at airports, bus and railway stations - writes Jo Siedlecka.
"They will be there to serve, whether people need directions, advice or simply a listening ear. We're not doing this to evangelize, but we want to show people the love of God by the support we give them," Jon Burns, UK Director of More Than Gold, said.
The organization began recruiting last year, when it launched a countrywide 'Get Set' tour visiting churches and other Christian communities, running workshops and information evenings. They have also produced packs suggesting practical ways churches can engage with the Games, including festivals, street parties, children's games, sports quizzes and competitions.
"The response has been terrific. Thousands of events are being planned and hundreds of people have signed up as Games Pastors. We are fortunate in the UK already to have a large number of trained sports chaplains who work with the 75 football clubs, rugby, cricket and other sports teams," Burns explained.
"Sports is as vital a part of the church programme as, say, youth work, or women's ministry. Indeed, by its all-encompassing nature, it can reach out to both men and women of all ages," Burns said.
On 18 May 2012, the Olympic Torch Relay begins at Britain's southwestern tip, Land's End in Cornwall. During its 70-day tour throughout the country, which ends in London, it will come within ten miles of many UK churches and many are planning welcome parties.
"We will be decorating the church ourselves. People are getting very excited," said Philip Horsington of the Ilchester Church of England Parish Council in Devon. In Cardiff, Wales, the relay will be met by a male choir. Jim Mundy, a 60-year-old ambulance worker who has run 266 marathons, will carry the torch between Ipswich and Norwich. The Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical and Methodist churches in Norwich will be getting decorated for his arrival. In Glasgow, Catholic and Protestant pipers will welcome the Olympic flame.
On the Sunday (22 July), before the Olympics begin, the Church of England has prepared prayers and readings for the Olympics and Paralympics. On 27 July, the day the Games begin, all churches are being asked to ring their bells for three minutes at 8am local time.
"Many people, of all faiths and none, are being introduced to bell ringing for the first time. It is a marvelous opportunity to reach out to the community," Burns said.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]