DOUGLAS PIZAC/The Associated Press
Jan Saeed, the chairwoman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Interfaith Roundtable and one of the newly appointed Olympic chaplains, stands outside the Fort Douglas Army Chapel. The old chapel, undergoing renovation, will host specific services
Chaplains will be available for guidance
By HANNAH WOLFSON
SALT LAKE CITY -- Be they a Buddhist bobsledder, a Catholic curler or a downhiller who skis for Allah, Olympic athletes will have a place to pray at the 2002 Winter Games.
To make sure everyone is taken care of, Olympic organizers have chosen 40 spiritual advisers to be on call during the 17 days of competition. Their duties will range from hosting regular worship services at the Olympic village to being available for any athlete, any time.
"Life continues on even though you're at the games," said Jan Saeed, the chairwoman of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Interfaith Roundtable and one of the newly appointed Olympic chaplains. "There are a lot of things that will be affecting these kids, so we'll be there to help."
At best, that will mean celebrating with gold-medal competitors who want to give thanks for their achievement. At worst, chaplains may have to aid athletes who get bad news from home, thousands of miles away.
Either way, they'll perform a crucial service for the 2,500 athletes and 1,000 supporters staying at the Olympic Village.
"It's important to have someone you can confide in during competition," said Josh Davis, an Olympic swimmer who won three gold medals at the Atlanta Games and two silvers in Sydney and hopes to serve as a chaplain when he's finished competing. "Everything around you says your worth and value is based on your performance . . . and it helps to have someone who loves you for you."
To give athletes that level of comfort, the chaplains were chosen by religious and lay leaders from the Salt Lake area who make up SLOC's Interfaith Roundtable.
The chaplains themselves -- 40 for the Olympic Games and 20 for the Paralympic Games that follow, with some overlap between the two come from nearly every sect imaginable.
There are Catholic priests, a Jewish rabbi, an Islamic imam, and Protestant ministers from several denominations. Saeed represents the Baha'i faith; a Buddhist, a Christian Scientist, a Quaker, a Seventh Day Adventist and two Mormon bishops are also on the list.
"We feel like we have a very, very diverse group," said Bill Shaw, SLOC's liaison on the committee. "Everyone calls this the Molympics or the Mormon Olympics. But this group feels very strongly that they want to set the record straight and say that it's not, it's for everybody."
The chaplains will work 8-hour shifts at an office in the Olympic Village that will be staffed around the clock. Others will be on call, as will religious leaders in the community, for specific and urgent requests.
In addition, renovations are underway at the Fort Douglas Army Chapel, part of the 139-year-old military fort that will become a part of the Olympic Village. The old chapel will host specific services for athletes such as Islamic prayers or Catholic mass, plus non-denominational worship.
Athletes and visitors outside the village also will have a plethora of places to pray.
The committee is compiling a list of worship services near the venues and will likely post it at hotels during the games. Park City's interfaith council, which usually hosts slope-side worship at the town's three ski resorts each Sunday, plans to hold services every day.
And the Park City Community United Methodist Church, which is located at the foot of the Olympic ski jump, plans to offer worship in several languages.
Places of care
"We need to care for the athletes and their families and the visitors," said senior pastor Scott Schiesswohl, who has a congregation of 600 and expects more than 700 visitors during the games. "I've traveled a lot and when you go to another country it's nice to be able to participate in services, especially in your own language."
SLOC has also planned a nondenominational musical service to be held at the Cathedral of the Madeline before the games begin in February. And in an effort to involve the local community, the roundtable is organizing a series of neighborhood parties this fall called Spiritual Opportunity for Unity and Peace or SOUP for the Soul.
"It's about understanding each other, and I think this is probably one of the greatest things that can come out of this," Shaw said.
More than gold
Davis, a devout Christian who prefers to confide in his own spiritual adviser during competition, agreed. He remembered visiting the Olympic chapel in Atlanta immediately after winning gold.
"I was standing next to some 6'4" guy from Africa and he's wearing his colorful robes but we're singing the same song to the same Jesus," Davis said. "Sure, sport brings us together, but think how much religion does. We're from all over the world, all over the map. The Olympic chaplaincy is a tiny glimpse of that."
©Copyright 2001, Standard Examiner