Chaplains promise to behave at Olympics

The 45 Anglican and Protestant chaplains ministering in the Olympic village in Athens have signed an agreement saying that they will not proselytise.

These chaplains, all volunteers, make up nearly half of the total number working at the Religious Services Centre in the Olympic village, which accommodates members all the main faiths.

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, senior Anglican chaplain in Athens, described last week how he suddenly found himself in discussion with the Athens Olympic Committee (ATHOC) over the chaplaincy work. "The authorities were only prepared to deal with established Christian Churches within the country with whom they had good relations. The idea of sports ministries from abroad coming in and doing their own thing was out of the question."

Canon Bradshaw said that what was at stake was a place in the Olympic village. "We are living with the constant threat of moving the Religious Services Centre outside the Olympic village."

This, he said, would severely limit the chaplains’ work. "We won a major battle when the authorities allowed us freedom of the Village, although they could not understand why we needed to be outside the Religious Services Centre. We now have to act responsibly, and anyone who doesn’t will lose their accreditation immediately."

A key component in discussions with ATHOC was the code of practice drawn up by Canon Bradshaw and circulated to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic chaplains. "The Buddhist chaplains also requested a copy, but this document has only been signed by our chaplains," Canon Bradshaw said.

The document contains more than a page on proselytisation: "Here in Greece, where nearly all the population are Orthodox, attempts to win anyone away from Orthodoxy could endanger the delicate and friendly relationships which the minority churches have built up with the Orthodox and the government, and it is the local churches who will have to live with the consequences. There is no need to mention the situation worldwide between Islam and Christianity."

The document stresses the difference between "unsolicited spiritual conversations" and "talking about beliefs" when people ask.

Canon Bradshaw said that evangelistic groups from across the world had been used to heavy involvement at such events. "They have both money and experience on their side. What those who don’t live here have to remember is that this is a country where Greek Orthodoxy is enshrined in the whole culture."

Canon Bradshaw admitted that, while he and others at St Paul’s, the main Anglican church in Athens, had imagined they would "do their bit" during the Olympics, he had not expected to be heading up the whole chaplaincy work. On the eve of the games, he said he was still finding the whole situation "a little daunting".

He praised the support he had received from the Revd John Boyers, the national director of SCORE, a sports ministry in the UK, which had organised chaplaincy work at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 1992.

Mr Boyers, a Baptist minister, is one of the chaplains in the Anglican-Protestant group, a number of whom were recruited from an item in the Church Times earlier this year. He will help co-ordinate the day-to-day running of the work during the games. Speaking before he left for Athens, Mr Boyers said: "Chaplaincy and evangelism are very different. SCORE specialises in Christian chaplaincy work with a proven track record. Naturally we want to be out there in the Olympic village, where there are 15,000 athletes, along with officials and trainers.

"From our experience, there will be a lot of contact, which may range from advice in a crisis to more simple request for prayer."