LCS Chaplain Selected for Olympics
12th July 2012
The Revd Mary Vickers has worked for Lincolnshire Chaplaincy Services as the Urban and Industrial Chaplain in North East Lincolnshire since September 2010. An important part of Mary’s ministry in the 6 years before taking up this post was her work as a sports chaplain in various contexts, both internationally and in the UK. Having served as a chaplain at other major sporting events, Mary applied to London 2012 and has been accepted as a chaplain for both the Olympics and Paralympics. This isn’t the first time that Mary’s been selected, and she now takes up the story:-
In Athens and Vancouver, as I will be in London, I was a member of the international, ecumenical, and interfaith chaplaincy team based in the Athletes’ Village. In London, there are 3 Athletes’ Villages – one in London itself, one in Surrey near the rowing and sprint canoeing venue, and one in the Weymouth/Portland area for the sailing events - but for security reasons I’m not allowed to talk publicly about which one I’ll be working in. However, both the context and work will be very similar to that which I’ve been involved in at previous events such as the Athens Olympics, 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin, 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics, and 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Guildford. As in the variety of workplaces I relate directly to on a daily basis in NELincolnshire, each of these major sporting events had their own special characteristics and styles of working, but there are obvious common themes and this will presumably be the case with London.
Being present in an athletes’ village is to be in a tremendous place of privilege, and chaplains need to remember that at all times. So we don’t rush around asking for autographs, taking pictures of athletes, or asking all the questions we’ve always wanted to ask. Elite athletes are human beings too, with the same basic needs and concerns as the rest of us, and deserve to be treated as such. Sadly, along with other famous people, they get used to only being spoken to if somebody wants to gain something from them, and so chaplains have to be distinct & different, treating them as the unique creation of God that they are.
Chaplaincy at major sporting events is largely but not exclusively pastoral or worship based. At Olympic Games, chaplains are based at what is often called the ‘religious services centre’ within the Village. Here, all faiths have a home and offer worship & hospitality according to their own tradition. Worship is often offered proactively according to a timetable as well as in response to specific requests. Often by the time they get to a major event, athletes have been away from home for ages at training camps etc, and so they appreciate the provision of regular and familiar worship.
They also appreciate the opportunity and space to talk; not just about issues connected with their sport, such a winning & losing, injuries, team selection, sharing rooms with people they don’t really know, and meeting expectations (their own, and those of their family & their nation) but also about so called ‘ordinary life’ which goes on around them whilst they’re focussing on eagerly anticipated aims. For instance in Athens, I spent time with someone who’d just learned of the bereavement of a close relative as well as with those worried about the effects of the Boscastle floods.
Chaplains at major sporting events are part of the volunteer workforce and so are self-funded. This includes travel and accommodation. As in the past, I’m staying with a host family from a local church. Thankfully, there’s no huge airfare to pay this time, and I’m extremely grateful to LCS for allowing me some extra time away from NELincolnshire to serve as a chaplain. In the past, I’ve solely taken holiday or unpaid leave to cover my chaplaincy duties.
There’s much more to tell and I’ll happily accept invitations to talk about my experiences. I normally write a daily blog whilst I’m away but security restrictions won’t allow that this time. However, the prayer support that comes from people reading the blog is important, and so I hope to send out regular private emails to prayer supporters. Email me via the LCS website if you’d like to receive this or if you’d like me to speak at an event in your church or community whether before or after London 2012.
(Picture above taken at 2009 World Athletics Championships)