Games to have a spiritual side

Games to have a spiritual side

SLOC's interfaith group organizing chaplain program

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret News religion editor

      While area philanthropists are busy signing large checks destined to support the 2002 Winter Olympics, a veritable melting pot of area religious leaders is looking to give the Games a boost with something beyond material wealth.
      Their activities and plans vary widely, but they're all operating with one goal in mind — to welcome the world to Salt Lake City in spirit, as well as in body.
      Alan Barnes, manager of interfaith relations for SLOC, said the International Olympic Committee requires that the host city provide chaplains to serve the athletes, making spiritual care part of the mandate for local Olympic organizers. "So we chose to form an Interfaith Relations Roundtable, drawing on a good cross section of community religious leaders along the Wasatch Front and throughout Utah."
      The group, which has met regularly for several months and includes dozens of leaders, is discussing various ways that denominations and individual congregations can contribute to the success of the Games, he said. "Every denomination was invited to participate," he said. "Some have been more aggressive in participating than others, but most want to get more involved as we get closer to the Olympics.
      Several proposals are underway at present, including discussion about the possibility of renovating the chapel at Fort Douglas "as a lasting legacy for the University of Utah and the entire community."
      "We're exploring it right now, but there is no announcement. Right now we're building bridges of understanding between various faith traditions, both Christian and non-Christian. Certainly that has been a positive thing that has occurred already as we've regularly met together. We've got subcommittees discussing areas that can be a legacy for our state and community that have come from the various religions, not individually but working together. It's still very much in the formative and exploratory stages."
      Barnes said he couldn't discuss whether fund-raising efforts have been formed for the proposed Fort Douglas project.
      The roundtable has also formed a subcommittee to conduct a search for some 40 chaplains who will volunteer their services during the Games.
      David Randle, chairman of the Salt Lake Olympic Chaplain Committee, said nine chaplains have already been recommended to serve — seven of them from Utah and one each from California and British Columbia. His subcommittee was charged with setting up criteria by which potential chaplains could be judged, distributing applications, then making recommendations to the interfaith roundtable. That group makes the final selection.
      "They have to have some recognized affiliation with an established religious organization, demonstrate interfaith sensitivity and be able to donate 40 hours a week for the 17 days the Games are on," Randle said. "They also have to be able to work within diverse ethnic communities, with young adults and participate in training that SLOC will offer over a period of several months before the games begin."
      Experience working with athletes, or personal athletic experience is also a plus, Randle said.
      "We've had applicants from Russia, Sweden and other European countries, as well as every state. We haven't put the application on the internet because we're not set up to handle floods of applicants. We hope that Utah faith communities will provide the bulk of chaplains. They'll be training over a couple of years, and expense-wise we're better able to do that when they're local."
      Randle said he's determined that Salt Lake won't make some of the same mistakes that happened during the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. He's spent time visiting with those who organized the chaplaincy effort there to avoid missing opportunities for chaplains to serve.
      "When they had the bombing, there was no plan for them to respond. Some things were done well by accident and in other areas they dropped the ball. One volunteer who was a hospital chaplain by training went instinctively to the nearest hospital (after the bomb blast) and was the only one of 40 to help that way. It did help them that visitors at the Olympic Village watched the calm of the chaplains there and it had a very calming effect there. That's something they did very well."
      Randle said he'd also like to see chaplains at venue sites to help athletes deal with their emotions. Having them at the opening and closing ceremonies would also be a plus. During Atlanta's opening ceremonies, "the head of the Polish delegation dropped dead of a heart attack and no chaplain was there to be involved."
      Beyond selecting chaplains, Barnes and Randle are helping area religious leaders prepare to cooperate in their efforts to help host the Olympics.
      An interfaith event chaired by both men is scheduled Jan. 10 and 11 at the SLOC offices. More than 75 lay leaders and clergy from along the Wasatch Front are scheduled to participate in the United Religions Initiative seminar. An invitation to the event seeks participants to "demonstrate to the world that people of different faith perspectives can work together for the common concerns of peace, justice, healing and protection of the Earth.
      "We have the possibility of reclaiming the ancient Olympic tradition of the whole person, body, mind and spirit, and encouraging the world to respect and celebrate the wholeness of each person," the letter says.
      Organized by members of the SLOC Interfaith Roundtable and the Salt Lake Olympic Chaplain Committee, the two-day event will help participants develop an understanding of the basic human values that unite all people, discover their own prejudices, and deepen their knowledge of international and interfaith issues. Organizers hope participants will come away with several more solid ideas about how they can help welcome the world to Utah in 2002 and that the relationships between area clergy will continue well beyond the Games themselves.
      "This (seminar) will probably have the most diverse representation of any local interfaith conference I've ever attended," said Barnes. It will include Bahai, Buddhist, Christian Science, Quaker, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, LDS, Southern Baptist, and Unitarian leaders."
      Because congregations will be one source of culling volunteers for the Olympics, Barnes said discussion about that aspect of hosting the Games will take place, along with opportunities for leaders to propose their own ways of helping. "In Atlanta, churches hosted the families of athletes who would not have otherwise been able to afford the expense of housing during the Games," he said. It's possible some local congregations may decide to do likewise.
      While the seminar represents the formal Olympic effort to involve churches, another interfaith group not affiliated with SLOC has also been preparing for Olympic visitors.
      June Evans, administrator for the Utah Games Network, said that group will be holding a retreat Jan. 16-17 in Park City for its executive board members to discuss plans for education, hospitality events and sports clinics the group is planning to put on both before and during the Games.
      Specifically, the group is developing ideas they'll share with congregations about how to use their church buildings as cultural or hosting centers during the games. "The churches can use these materials in whatever way they choose, and each will do it in a little different way."
      She said the Salvation Army is already planning to provide hospitality for people who are waiting in line at the various Olympic venues. Other congregations are considering hosting pre-Games sports clinics for children that could begin as early as this summer, she said.


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