5th August, 2012
Some 300 volunteer 'Games Pastors' have spent the past week helping travellers at major Olympic transport hubs in London in what is a first for an Olympic Games.
The initiative, which has been supported by various church denominations and will now form a blueprint for future global sporting events, is being organised by More than Gold, an umbrella organisation resourcing churches with outreach materials and support during the Games.
"The many official staff who are serving travellers so well simply don’t have time to listen or talk those in need or with problems. Filling the gap are our Games Pastors, who are trained to be a listening ear and to respond accordingly."
- Mike Freeman, a former police training officer and now operations manager of the Games Pastors Team
The Games Pastors, who wear a powder blue uniform, are based in London, Luton, Newcastle and Coventry during the Olympics. While most of them usually live in the UK, some have come from as far afield as Cyprus, Germany and the US.
Mike Freeman, a former police training officer and now operations manager of the Games Pastors Team, says the job of the pastors is to offer support to travellers.
"Sometimes it is as simple as helping someone make sense of UK money so they have the right change for the loo," he says in a statement provided by More than Gold. "At others it can be offering comfort to someone who is lost and bewildered.’
Encounters so far have included one at London Bridge station in which pastors talked to and prayed for a man who had lost his wife and child in a car accident and another in which the pastors were able to offer support to a man who had been out of work for some time and who couldn't see any point to his life.
In another incident, the pastors were able to assist members of the Madagascar team who had arrived at Luton Airport, to the north of London, with no-one to greet them. They were also able to help the team members look for their luggage which was lost on the journey from Paris.
Mr Freeman says there been very positive feedback from the public, train station managers and staff. "The many official staff who are serving travellers so well simply don’t have time to listen or talk those in need or with problems. Filling the gap are our Games Pastors, who are trained to be a listening ear and to respond accordingly."
So positive has the reaction been, in fact, that a similar program is set to be run at future world sporting events including the upcoming Commonweath Games in 2014 and the next OIympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Meanwhile in other news from London, More than Gold have reported that sales of a 'mini-mag' - which contains a background to the Games and stories of Christian athletes and is being given out by church representatives at Olympic-related events - has already sold 200,000 copies while more than 8,000 copies of the Bible Society's special edition Sports Bibles have been sold.