[Ecumenical News International, London] As the 2012 London Olympic Games winds toward its conclusion on August 12, so-called “street pastors” have been helping visitors make sense of an event spread over 13 venues in the British capital.
London Street Pastors, an inter-denominational church organization that was formed in 2003 to respond to urban problems by engaging with people on the streets, has mobilized a 300-person team in striking blue uniforms that is working at airports, train stations and public centers.
“Sometimes it is as simple as helping someone make sense of U.K. money so they have the right change for the loo [public bathroom],” said Mike Freeman, operations manager of the Games Pastors Team. “At others it can be offering comfort to someone who is lost and bewildered.”
At London Bridge station, Games Pastors met a man struggling to deal with the death of his wife and child following a car crash, Freeman said. He had been driving the car and was blaming himself for their deaths. The volunteers talked to him, took him for a cup of tea and he asked them to pray for him.
Another Games Pastors team helped a Korean student who had caught the wrong train, re-directed a lady who was lost, and gave comfort to a man who had been out of work for a number of years and didn’t see any point to his life, said Freeman.
In another incident, members of the Madagascar team landed at Luton airport with no official to greet them. With their bags still in Paris, arrangements were also made to provide them with clothes and essentials.
“There has been very positive feedback from the public, the station managers and staff,” said Freeman. “The many official staff who are serving travelers so well simply don’t have time to listen or talk to those in need or with problems. Filling the gap are our Games Pastors.”
The reaction has been so positive that the Games Pastors program is set to become the blueprint for major future sporting events, including the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Rio 2016.
The teams were organized by More Than Gold, an agency set up by all the main denominations to help churches serve the 2012 Games and their own communities.
There are also 8,000 volunteer “Games Ambassadors” recruited for the Olympics by London Mayor Boris Johnson. One Ambassador, Judy Dixey, who is a parishioner at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in north London, said the team’s job is “to make people feel welcome, safe and comfortable during their stay. We can advise on travel and sightseeing, and refer people to specialist first aid stations.”