Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Although the Championships had finished, chaplains were still around if needed, although we had a much freer space ourselves. In the morning I went to meet a lady in the former eastern half of Berlin who my husband and I had stayed with in 1989 before the Berlin Wall finally came down totally. It was a moving experience to hear her stories of the last almost 20 years since full reunification, and to enjoy a visit to her church knowing that I was able to do so without being watched, which would have been the situation last time we visited. In the afternoon, I revisited some of the famous sites to see how they'd changed in the same period, as well as going to the Jewish memorial which is new since the last time I was in Berlin. In the evening, the remaining chaplains got together for a meal before we all left the following morning.
We had a final chaplains' service at noon on Sunday, during which we all shared our experiences of the Championships and gave thanks to God for all that had gone on.
Then I headed off to be on duty in the Stadium Chapel for the final athletics events, and what a session it was! I had thought anyway, how apt it was that having been on duty there for the first morning of athletics, and experienced the initial 'teething problems' of working in such close proximity to the media who seemed to see our presence as slightly strange even if not contradictory to their presence, that I was also on duty for the final session. Although I knew that our presence was much more accepted by this stage in the Championships, I hadn't anticipated such a positive ending. As it was finals day and so the number of athletes competing was smaller, it is harder to share the full flavour of the stories without giving identities away but I shall try:
- Our first visitor was a photographer who said he'd passed the chapel several times a day but never been in. I showed him round and explained that the words on the walls were various verses of Scripture in different languages, and started with the back wall which has the Lord's Prayer on it. His response was "Sorry, I'm an atheist". We talked very gently and after asking if he could play the organ (but I couldn't find the switch) he took a leaflet about the chapel away with him.
- Similarly, one of the staff came in saying that he thought he ought to take a look having walked past so many times. He too chatted for a while and took a booklet about the chapel that he said he would like to discuss with one of his family who is a faithful churchgoer.
- At least 6 athletes called into chapel to pray or to talk. One prayed on her own; 2 asked for either my colleague or myself to pray with them; 1 from a country where to be a Christian isn't easy simply wanted to say hello to 2 chaplains; and 2 who I'd had several conversations with during the Championship stopped to talk with me.
- The team manager from the predominantly non-Christian country who we served on Wednesday evening came into the mixed zone, stopped at the chapel, and said "thank you for your help last time I saw you".
- One television crew asked was filming allowed in the chapel. Not knowing the 'official answer', I took a leap of faith and said yes. They filmed various aspects and then asked "can we stay for a while so that we can get a shot with athletes walking past the door because for the last week we've sometimes filmed athletes giving interviews with the chapel in the background and it'd be good to now film the chapel with athletes in the background". After that, they filmed a short interview with me about what sports chaplaincy really is. As they were from Eurovision, who supply sports, news and people stories to a large number of broadcasters, I have no idea when (or even if) the footage will be used, but pray that it will help sports chaplaincy to be both better known and more accepted.
It was certainly an amazing time of duty. After the athletes from the last event has passed the chapel, I dashed to get the shuttle back to the Team Hotel where I'm staying. I had originally planned to try and get a seat in the stadium for the Closing Ceremony, but we chaplains had been surprised to get an invitation to attend the Athletes' Banquet that evening, along with some of the other volunteers. This was a real privilege although, as it was held in a huge, dark warehouse-type arena with lots of loud music and at least a couple of thousand people, there was little chance of meeting up with anyone. I was glad to go though, and was pleased to be there for the final 3 Medal Ceremonies of the Championships. It was unusual for these not to happen in the Stadium, and some felt it wasn't fair on the athletes in these ceremonies, so it was good to be able to cheer loudly when the GB men's 4x400m team got their Silver medal. (As I was still on duty in the chapel I hadn't been able to cheer when Lisa Dobrisky got her silver medal in the Stadium earlier on.)
Monday, 24 August 2009
After watching the 3 laps of the marathon, I dashed off to the shuttle bus for the other hotel. Whilst here, I did speak to some people I hadn't met before, but it was really a time of making sure that I said farewell and tied loose ends with some of the people I've met since arriving. Then it was on to the stadium, where I got an amazing seat by the long jump that felt like I was almost in the sandpit itself. This was such a privilege, but also enabled me to speak again with a coach I've had several conversations with. It was also great to be in the stadium to see a Loughborough student gain a medal with the relay team.
Sunday, 23 August 2009
Soon after arrival, the rains came down again big-style. I didn't get too wet but it was sad to sit in the stadium and watch both athletes and officials getting wetter and wetter by the second. It must have been hard for those in the second group trying to qualify for the Javelin final who had much worse weather conditions than those in the first group who'd competed earlier. Then, as those of you who watched it on TV will know, throwing and jumping events were suspended for safety reasons, and the start of the track events was delayed. That too adds a stress onto athletes as their preparation is aimed at a certain time and then they have to hang around for an uncertain length of time before being able to compete - a bit like what happens at Wimbledon in a rainy English summer! Thankfully, once the rain stopped, competition was able to resume and was all scheduled events were completed, albeit later than expected.
Friday, 21 August 2009
- On the way back from the stadium on Tuesday evening I chatted to a coach from an English-speaking nation who admitted that the team was suffering low morale due to not doing so well as expected. We talked and she took my contact details saying that she'd like to get in touch if/when she thought that others in the team might like to talk.
- Whilst in the Stadium Chapel on Wednesday evening a runner came in after her event, sat for a while, and then asked me to pray with her.
- Another incident on Wednesday evening resulted from an athlete hurt in a fall (not on the track) being taken through the mixed zone outside the chapel to a medical room. Not long afterwards 3 anxious team officials arrived. Despite being from a predominantly non-Christian country, they reacted kindly to the offer of sitting quietly in the chapel rather than standing in the bustle of the mixed zone. I was also able to respond to their requests for water to drink and later for tissues to wipe their worried faces. Although not sharing the same faith, they expressed their gratitude at these examples of Christian service.
- On Thursday in the Oasis of Silence at the other Team Hotel, I led a Bible reflection but first had to call two other chaplains to come to help with translation. I led the reflection in English, the Bible reading was in German whilst the 1 team official and the 1 athlete followed in French and Spanish bibles respectively, and my words were likewise simultaneously translated into French and Spanish. In the following time of prayer, each person was invited to pray in their own mother tongue, which actually added a 5th language!
- Whilst in that hotel, I was able to have a brief meeting with someone from the Japanese delegation to help equip me for the times when Japanese athletes will be at Loughborough, and also responded to a German volunteer who said to me "You're a chaplain? Can I talk with you?"
I'm aware that the anonymity of some of the stories in my blog might seem a bit too vague for some readers, but I hope you will understand that this is essential to maintain confidentiality, trust and integrity - and I had cause to say something similar to some media people in the mixed zone on Wednesday evening who during a conversation with them ask if athletes really did come into the chapel and if so were they famous ones.......
Thursday, 20 August 2009
I then set off to the stadium an hour early so that I could grab some 'free time' before my duty in the Stadium chapel. One of my colleagues discovered a while ago that volunteers at the Championships are allowed to use the swimming pool which was built as part of the stadium complex for the 1936 Olympics. It is open-air and on a hot day like today swimmers are watched with slight envy by those gathering to watch the evening's athletics - so it is probably the only time I'll ever swim in a 50m Olympic pool with an audience! Then it was off to the Stadium chapel for 1745 for what turned out to be an almost 5 hour duty. This was partly because the athletics was due to go on a bit later this evening, but mostly because the decathlon went on much later than envisaged as so many of them kept going in the high jump. I finally left the chapel at 2235 and headed off to catch the last Championship shuttle bus back to the hotel. Various things happened during this stint in chapel but more of that in my next post........
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Monday, 17 August 2009
I went to the stadium later for various admin things re the chapel there and for a meeting with someone who wanted a chat. Afterwards I stayed on for the athletics and what a night it was. It was a privilege to be there for Jessica Ennis's final events in the Heptathlon and to see her win Team GB's first gold medal (chaplains aren't always able to be totally impartial!), and then be there for Usain Bolt's gold medal and World Record. The noise in the stadium was deafening! I was sitting in the athlete's and team seating area, and it was amazing to be sitting behind numerous members of the Jamaican delegation with their flags whistles etc etc. There'd been a similar scene just before as we were near the shot putt area whilst the women's event was going on and the German coach was sitting in front of us´- surrounded by media watching his every move as his athletes competed - it's not just the athletes that feel the pressure of competition!