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U.K. churches go for ‘more than gold’

August 6, 2012

Churches in the United Kingdom are trying to spin some of their own gold from the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. In a nation where only 6.5 percent of the population attends church regularly, according to the 2005 census, Christians have seized upon the opportunity to offer a positive image to the public.

Through an ecumenical charitable trust created under the“More Than Gold”name — first tied to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and used by the Christian community at other games since — church members are providing support, hospitality and entertainment to Olympic visitors, athletes and British citizens. More than 1,500, mostly young adult volunteers from 40 countries are assisting in this effort.

As my friend Kathleen LaCamera wrote ina story on London 2012 for United Methodist News Service, Methodist congregations are among those who participated in the nationwide Olympic Torch Relay and Olympics-related cultural events.

Methodists also joined the estimated 300 volunteer “games pastors” in powder-blue uniforms interacting with Olympic visitors at major transportation hubs in London, Luton, Newcastle and Coventry. More Than Gold volunteers even rescued the Olympics team from Madagascar when they landed at Luton airport with missing luggage and no official to greet them.

A partnership through Westminster Abbey, Methodist Central Hall and St. Margaret’s Church has brought Christian musicians, dancers and visual artists from 30 countries to perform daily on the Abbey Green and the Methodist chapel in central London. Methodist Central Hall also is offering lunchtime services throughout the games.

Volunteer hosts are providing free bed and breakfast to more than 350 family members through the More Than Gold Athlete Family Homestay program.

Several hundred thousand copies of a “mini-mag” with a background to the games and stories of athletes who live out their Christian faith are being distributed. The Bible Society’s special editions of Sports Bibles are available in the chaplaincy area of the Olympic Village.

I emailed the More Than Gold media center and asked whether all this hard work had attracted notice.

The short answer: yes.

A number of BBC outlets, NBC online, Japan’s largest newspaper, the top Spanish sports newspaper, Christianity magazine and other Christian and secular media outlets have conducted interviews about the popular, church-sponsored community festivals, the volunteers, the homestay program, the issue of sport and spirituality and the Praise Bus.

The Praise Bus was the inspiration of Escalls Methodist Chapel, which, being three miles from “land’s end” in Cornwall, bills itself as “the last outpost of Methodism in England.”

When the Olympic Torch left Land’s End on May 19, the brightly-colored, open-top “Praise Bus” followed. Along the way, the bus traveled more than 8,500 miles through England, Scotland and Wales, carrying more than 100 musicians and singers during the journey.

Sixty-five days later,the Praise Bus and its musicians created an amazing, “electric” atmosphere upon arrival in London, said Christine Bonfield, coordinator from Escalls Methodist.

I don’t doubt it. Our U.K. sisters and brothers have creatively demonstrated how to extend their reach far beyond church walls, while participating in the summer’s most important venue for global goodwill.

It’s just brilliant, as the British would say.