Bahai News - Olympic Chaplains
Religion & Ethics
40 spiritual advisers will be on call during Games
By Hannah Wolfson
Associated Press writer
Be they a Buddhist bobsledder, a Catholic curler or a downhiller who skis
for Allah, Olympic athletes will have a place to pray at the 2002 Winter
To make sure everyone is taken care of, Olympic organizers have chosen 40
spiritual advisers to be on call during the 17 days of competition. Their
duties will range from hosting regular worship services at the Olympic
Village to being available for any athlete, any time.
Jan Saeed, chairwoman of the Interfaith
Roundtable, stands outside the Fort Douglas Army Chapel.
Douglas C. Pizac, Associated
"Life continues on even though you're at the Games," said Jan Saeed,
chairwoman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Interfaith Roundtable
and one of the newly appointed Olympic chaplains. "There are a lot of things
that will be affecting these kids, so we'll be there to help."
At best, that will mean celebrating with gold-medal competitors who want to
give thanks for their achievement. At worst, chaplains may have to aid
athletes who get bad news from home, thousands of miles away.
Either way, they'll perform a crucial service for the 2,500 athletes and
1,000 supporters staying at the Olympic Village.
"It's important to have someone you can confide in during competition,"
said Josh Davis, an Olympic swimmer who won three gold medals at the
Atlanta Games and two silvers in Sydney and hopes to serve as a chaplain
when he's finished competing. "Everything around you says your worth and
value is based on your performance . . . and it helps to have someone who
loves you for you."
To give athletes that level of comfort, the chaplains were chosen by
religious and lay leaders from the Salt Lake area who make up SLOC's
The chaplains themselves — 40 for the Olympic Games and 20 for the
Paralympic Games that follow, with some overlap between the two —
come from nearly every sect imaginable.
There are Catholic priests, a Jewish rabbi, an Islamic imam and Protestant
ministers from several denominations. Saeed represents the Baha'i faith; a
Buddhist, a Christian Scientist, a Quaker, a Seventh Day Adventist and two
LDS bishops are also on the list.
"We feel like we have a very, very diverse group," said Bill Shaw,
SLOC's liaison on the committee.
"Everyone calls this the Molympics or the Mormon Olympics. But
this group feels very strongly that they want to set the record straight
and say that it's not, it's for everybody."
The chaplains will work eight-hour shifts at an office in the
Olympic Village that will be staffed around the clock. Others will be on
call, as will religious leaders in the community, for specific and
In addition, renovations are under way at the Fort Douglas Army
Chapel, part of the 139-year-old military fort that will become a part
of the Olympic Village. The old chapel will host specific services for
athletes such as Islamic prayers or Catholic Mass, plus
Athletes and visitors outside the village also will have a
plethora of places to pray.
The committee is compiling a list of worship services near the
venues and will likely post it at hotels during the Games. Park City's
interfaith council, which usually hosts slope-side worship at the town's
three ski resorts each Sunday, plans to hold services every day.
And the Park City Community United Methodist Church, which is
located at the foot of the Olympic ski jump, plans to offer worship in
"We need to care for the athletes and their families and the
visitors," said senior pastor Scott Schiesswohl, who has a congregation
of 600 and expects more than 700 visitors during the Games. "I've
traveled a lot, and when you go to another country it's nice to be able
to participate in services, especially in your own language."
SLOC has also planned a nondenominational musical service to be
held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine before the Games begin in
February. And in an effort to involve the local community, the
roundtable is organizing a series of neighborhood parties this fall
called Spiritual Opportunity for Unity and Peace — or SOUP — for
"It's about understanding each other, and I think this is probably
one of the greatest things that can come out of this," Shaw said.
Davis, a devout Christian who prefers to confide in his own
spiritual adviser during competition, agreed. He remembered visiting the
Olympic chapel in Atlanta immediately after winning gold.
"I was standing next to some 6-foot, 4-inch guy from Africa and
he's wearing his colorful robes but we're singing the same song to the
same Jesus," Davis said. "Sure, sport brings us together, but think how
much religion does. We're from all over the world, all over the map. The
Olympic chaplaincy is a tiny glimpse of that."
©Copyright 2001, Associated Press
Page last updated/revised 080801
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page