July 20, 2012

20RNS: 160 Chaplains to Serve Olympians in London

160 Chaplains to Serve
Olympians in London

BY AVA THOMAS                                                                                                        ©2012 Baptist Press    

John Boyers' gig as interfaith chaplaincy coordinator at the 2012 London Summer Olympics might seem overwhelming, if not for his normal digs.

His "office," home of the Manchester United soccer club, is nicknamed the Theatre of Dreams. For 20 years, he's rubbed shoulders with thousands who pay $25 each to tour Old Trafford, one of the world's most visited stadiums. And that's not counting game days, when 76,000 fans show up.

During the Olympics and Paralympics, Boyers will manage the deployment into the athletes' village of 160 chaplains from five major world religions of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism.

On any given day, Boyers is a constant in a place of perpetual turnover, and he'll tell you that's just the way he likes it.

"Being sensitively present in people's lives and being found trustworthy over time are so important," said Boyers, chaplain for the 647 full-time staff members and players of Manchester United. "I come alongside people to be a supportive friend, providing spiritual and pastoral care when they need it."

He doesn't proselytize. He has his reasons.

"It's different from being a chaplain in the United States," Boyers said. "In English sports, a secular culture, people are suspicious of keen Christians."

In England, opportunities for overt evangelism are restricted and a "hard sell" just doesn't work well, he said.

"So chaplains are accepted by clubs as those who serve, offering pastoral and spiritual care sensitively to all people employed by a club," Boyers said. "That's the deal. If you don't like the deal, don't sign up."

That means there are no organized prayer times before games or chapel services for players, but near Easter and Christmas he leads Bible studies for Christian staff. As for his regular weekly work, Boyers said, "I pray that the Lord will go before me, be with me and direct me, causing people to ask the questions which produce significant conversations." 38236

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