An Anglican presence at the Vancouver Winter Olympics

Published October 1, 2008

What is the relationship between religion and the Olympic Games?

If you were to ask the organizing committee of the Beijing Summer Games, they would tell you that there should be absolutely no relationship at all. Church and state – especially the Chinese state – are to be kept quite separate.

The 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver are just 16 months away. This is Canada; not China. We are a multicultural and multi-faith nation, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Olympics organizing committee.

In fact, when the 2,500 athletes converge upon Vancouver in February 2010 they will be hard pressed to ignore an impressive $25 million multi-faith worship centre in the Athletes’ Village near downtown Vancouver. The Interfaith Spiritual Society of British Columbia hopes to have the facility completed in 2009. It will represent Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faith communities. After the Olympics are over, the multi-faith centre will continue to meet spiritual needs in the heart of Vancouver.

Thousands of Anglicans will be present at the Olympics as athletes, spectators and volunteers, and that in itself is cause for celebration. But the Anglican Church of Canada also needs to be there. We need to be there to host those members of the Anglican Communion who will converge on Vancouver from Feb. 12 to 28. We also need to be there for the Paralympic Games planned for March 12 to 21.

It is easy to suggest that the Anglican Church of Canada should be there. Question is, what should we do there? Is it enough to occupy space in the multi-faith worship centre, standing side by side with Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and other Christian denominations? Perhaps it is.

It will reinforce the message that we are a multi-faith nation and that we all respect each other. It will also send a strong signal to countries such as China, for instance, that we not only tolerate religion; we embrace it. That faith, not fear is fundamental to being Canadian.

Derek La Croix, president of the interfaith society, said that Vancouver is becoming known as “a city of peace and a city of sustainability. We are hoping that it will be a sign of hope to all the world that we can cooperate – all spiritual faiths and traditions – and respect each other.”

The idea for the multi-faith worship centre grew out of a visit in 2004 by both the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, during which people gathered for a retreat that promoted peace and understanding. Mr. La Croix points out that this “will not be a place of proselytizing or conversion or anything like that.”

Aside from involvement in the multi-faith worship centre, one hopes that there is more that the Anglican church can bring to the Olympic Games. What is our Anglican identity? What makes us peculiarly Anglican within the family of Christian denominations?

This is a discussion worth having across the country, particularly in churches, parishes and dioceses where people might be more prone to visit the Winter Games.

What might an Anglican presence at the Winter Games look like?

  • The Anglican Church of Canada has developed a passion in support of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The primate was involved in marches in both London and Ottawa to raise awareness around issues of poverty. So, could we provide MDG toques to athletes?
  • Could we have Anglican families in the Fraser Valley adopt an athlete, providing encouragement and support?
  • Should we take on a major role in the much smaller Paralympics, where 1,700 athletes and team officials will gather to compete in four sporting events: alpine skiing, ice sledge hockey, nordic skiing and wheelchair curling?

One wonders what it would look like if the Anglican Church of Canada was a proud sponsor of the 2010 Winter Paralympics.

This is a rare opportunity for the Anglican Church of Canada. What would be an appropriate Anglican response?


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