Churches focus on wider legacy of 2012 Olympics

L-R: Stephen Timms, Betty Matear, and David Willson

L-R: Stephen Timms, Betty Matear, and David Willson

More than 200 Christians from across the denominations gathered together with members of charities and other NGOs  at Westminster Central Hall in London this past week to engage with matters of social justice in the lead up to the 2012 London Games.  The meeting was hosted by More Than Gold, the churches’ 2012 umbrella charity. The four  key areas addressed were homelessness, human trafficking and prostitution, Fairtrade and climate change. 

Keynote speakers included the Rt Hon Stephen Timms, Member of Parliament for East Ham, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Labour's Vice Chair for Faith Groups, and also Commissioner Betty Matear, Moderator of the  Free Churches Group of England and Wales, and the most senior member of the Salvation Army.  
David Willson, CEO of More Than Gold, opened the day by sharing of his own experience over the past fourteen  years heading up the churches’ work alongside Olympic and Paralympic Games saying:  “The Olympics are an  opportunity wherever they occur for dynamic short-term celebration and long-term regeneration for millions of  people. However, for some the Games can mean further degradation and misery. It is our duty as Christ’s body  here on earth to do all we can to prevent this from happening, while serving and encouraging all that is good.”
The Rt Hon Stephen Timms, MP opened his address saying that the 2012 Games, hosted by the East End of London, are “the most exciting event worldwide that can change this run-down area economically”. He  acknowledged that “church attendance in London is on the rise”. He also saw that “More Than Gold are right to  recognise that the Olympics are a moment for national pride but also for service, and Christian service in the  Games is something to be supported and celebrated.” He went on to express his “strong support of social action  rooted in and inspired by faith” and sees More Than Gold’s work as being “not about activists with a background  in Christianity but about initiatives rooted in worship and love for Christ. It is about those with a passion to get  involved with individuals” he said.  “We need to renew our communities and our politics in the years ahead.”
He went on to make reference to Wesley, Wilberforce and Booth, men of both transformation and of service, and  left those gathered with a mandate: “Transformation needs to be at the heart of the Christian contribution,  speaking up for those with no voice, and challenging government where necessary.  You need to keep us as  government focussed on legacy.”
Commissioner Betty Matear’s address recognised that, as a united Christian voice, we have “one shot, one  opportunity to make a mark on the global scene in this way. We’re at the centre of the action,” she said, “and  want to uphold the objectives and purposes of the Olympic movement. But what will we be remembered for  beyond 2012?  Every major sporting event plays a big effect. We need to re-orientate the moral compass where  necessary in our land.”  
More Than Gold’s work was to be seen she said “not as a narrow church agenda but a big stage with a long-term focus, commitment to excellence and to justice, involving people of all faiths and none. We must work for the good of others where there is exploitation, or damage, or where people are further impoverished.” She went on to say that we need to “think globally, act locally. We will reflect and discuss and build on what is already  happening.” She also saw that the Christian community across the UK “needs to recognise positive aspects but also speak up, speak out and speak for those whose voice is not being heard.”
Presentations were given on the four key areas with Alison Gelder of Housing Justice speaking on  homelessness and the many improvements that have been made over the past thirteen years with figures “down  from 2000 in 1997 to about 500 now”. She spoke of the “unsung success of the current government” while  challenging the Christian community not to be complacent. “Half of rough sleepers in the UK are in London,” she  said, “and to achieve the long-term target of zero rough sleeping by the end of 2012 means a change to society,  with the church taking the leading role.”
Ruth Dearnley of Stop The Traffik spoke graphically about the issues behind human trafficking and prostitution.  “This business,” she said, “is the fastest growing crime on the planet with a $32 billion profit, which is bigger than Microsoft.” As a united church, “we need to answer a challenge that has not been answered before” she said. 

“There are no known statistics, no in depth research of how a global sports event affects the traffic” because this  issue is one that “is organised and systemised, and is both adaptable and moveable whenever something is shut  down.” She suggested addressing this social cancer by means of “every local community having the power to  change what is happening around them.  Communities are the answer, and if community groups are there, led and driven with faith in Christ then there is no more powerful cocktail to bring the kingdom of God.  The UN  wants us on board because they realise the key lies in the community and in community groups” she  passionately exclaimed. “We will only ever stop the traffic if we work in partnership to bring about change to the  community where people are being bought and sold. There is no room for tribalism and territorialism.”
Paul Chandler of Traidcraft addressed issues of justice within the marketplace calling for “a better deal for the poor in the world”, demanding the provision of “better working conditions” which in turn “bring dignity, opportunity  and hope where it didn’t exist before.” He welcomed the decision by the London Organising Committee of the  Olympic Games (LOCOG) to commit to using Fairtrade items in food outlets during the 2012 Games where over 40 million meals will be served during the Games, but recognised that “the 2012 Games are an opportunity for  Fairtrade to be a key provider and for this important trademark of justice for market providers to become further  known.”
Mary Colwell of The Catholic Climate Covenant campaign, which links the effects of climate change to the needs of the vulnerable, also praised the efforts being made by LOCOG to host a games that are the greenest to date.

She encouraged church members present to “be leaders in energy efficiency, incorporate awe and wonder for  the world and creation into your worship, be witnesses to God’s mark on creation by having eco-friendly church grounds.” Alongside the forthcoming Olympians, “this is a time for us all to be heroes,” she said.
Attendees then gathered in smaller groups to propose recommendations that More Than Gold might give further  consideration to in the lead up to the 2012 Games.
James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 Games, said: “I am profoundly encouraged to see that over a third of those presently engaging with these issues of social justice are from the heart of the Catholic community in the UK.  We have the highest representation on these topics and  have a strong tradition of being a voice for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. There is no reason,”  he said, “why the 2012 Games in the UK should not make a lasting difference to everyone concerned in our land. We as Catholics will do all we can to ensure this happens.”



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