Shining a light during the games
The world’s premier sporting event will be in the UK this summer, with almost 15,000 athletes from 205 countries competing. Every city, town and village has been caught up in the fervour, so how have Christians responded to this unprecedented opportunity? Claire Musters writes…
Equipping the Church
More Than Gold was set up by all the main denominations to help churches make the most of The Games. A spokesperson indicated that at least 5,000 churches are grabbing this opportunity and almost 2,000 people will have attended training events either directly through More Than Gold or through their denominations.
This has equipped churches to engage with their communities through holding big-screen festivals, sports quizzes, providing hospitality and much more.
David Willson, CEO of More Than Gold, said: “This is by far the largest ever response by the churches to a major international sports event. This is true not only regarding the number of churches involved but also the breadth of the churches. In addition, over 60 agencies have played their part in producing resources and creating the programmes
More Than Gold has orchestrated what is possibly the widest ever co-operation between denominations and churches, both locally and nationally, and other organisations, such as Scripture Union, Bible Society, the Salvation Army and Christians in Sport, have produced
resources and training.
In the capital, the2012, a Diocese of London initiative, has been mobilising young people to volunteer and serve the local churches and groups.
A new approach
What has been a significant change during 2012 is how groups of churches have been able to partner with their local authorities, rather than solely organising their own events.
As Peter Meadows, communications director for More Than Gold, said: “The traditional approach to community engagement by churches has been to do our own thing and hope we will get noticed. The 2012 Games – and the Queen’s Jubilee before them – have shown the value of joining in with what the community plan or providing leadership for it. This has made it possible for churches to let their light shine and for their lives to be seen. It is a powerful lesson and a very hopeful sign for the future.
“Many groups of churches have been wonderfully surprised at the welcome they have been given by their local authority when offering help and resources. This has forged new and positive relationships.”
Here are some of the lessons churches
indicated they have learned working
with local organisations.
- Cover your initiatives in prayer and ask for favour – then don’t be surprised when it happens!
- Council cuts can result in a deep appreciation for initiatives churches run.
- Be professional.
- Spend time building your reputation. If you want to do something big, think about doing smaller events first to gain trust and favour.
- Be patient – there are a lot of council departments that need to be involved in large events.
- In light of the above start your planning early! It can take months of preparation to put on an event.
- Communication can sometimes be an issue.
- Be gracious and open to learning – they may have more knowledge than you about putting on events.
- Don’t be afraid to take the lead if they ask you to.
Churches have also been serving their communities by running large-scale festivals, with many seeing this as part of an ongoing process.
The Opening Ceremony is a great opportunity to provide an all-age celebration. In Dagenham, churches are working together to show the Opening Ceremony on a big screen in a park as part of their Festival Central. They have spent 18 months working with the local council and police to plan the event, and an estimated 50,000 people will attend.
One of the churches involved, Bethel, has a history of working with the council and, for the last 10 years, has held an annual outdoor service on council land. Members believe it was this previous relationship that helped them gain favour, and also resulted in the council asking them to throw a party for the Torch Relay. Many other churches have found they have been asked to play their part in Torch Relay celebrations too.
Loughborough Churches Partnership, which is holding its own events during the Games, is also working with Charnwood Council and Charnwood Arts. Keith Munro explains: “Our local council has been very helpful. They have been prepared to lend us loads of equipment and have also given us lots of advice.
“We have also been working with Charnwood Arts on their Picnic in the Park. This event has been put on in the past and when churches have tried to get involved they’ve been on the fringe. This time we approached them and offered help and funding at an earlier stage, and have been warmly received and have had input into the planning. Our part is now much more at the centre of the event.”
The co-operation with those outside the church has not been limited to local authorities. Croydon churches are working with Crystal Palace Football Club (CPFC). Again, relationships had already been built. When Crystal Palace’s future was saved by a consortium of businessmen they wanted to forge closer links with the community. This
tied in with the Croydon churches desire to put on community events so they joined forces to create ‘In It Together’.
Chief executive of the club, Phil Alexander, said: “We are excited as Croydon’s local league club to be able to partner with an active group like the local churches.”
A pilot event held last year paved the way for this year’s More Than Gold-themed event, which included a marquee on the pitch for the main stage and a ‘street festival’ in the club’s large car park. Steve Clifford, the Alliance’s general director, said: “It is great to hear how churches have been grabbing this once-ina- lifetime opportunity. The combination of the Games and the wonderful Jubilee celebrations have made this a significant year for the Church and I’m so pleased to see how we’ve risen to the occasion. I hope and pray that the relationships forged during this time will go from strength to strength in future years too.”