By Marcus Braybrook
Report from London
In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were also a religious occasion and accompanied by a 100 days truce midst any warfare. Today some faith groups have observed 100 days of prayer for peace and that the Games would foster international friendship.
A week before this year’s Olympics in London, the World Congress of Faiths arranged a moving interfaith service at the church of St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square. A golden Olympic torch – lent by a man from Bristol who has raised money for cancer charities – was carried in by children. The torch was also held aloft during each reading.
The service included nine faiths’ versions of the Golden Rule - ‘Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.’ Lizzie and Christina read a story about how in a race, when one child fell over and started crying, all the other children came back to comfort him. The service was led by Rev. Richard Carter of St Martin’s and was enriched by the beautiful music of the St Martin’s choir, under the direction of Andrew Earis.
In his address, Geoff Thompson MBE, who was five times World Karate Champion and founder of Youth Charter, said that taking part and doing your best was what mattered most. This applied to the whole of life and sport could encourage young people, especially the disadvantaged, to increase their self-esteem and contribute to society.
The prayers were led by Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, the newly appointed Vicar of St Martin’s. The Church’s International Committee kindly arranged a reception.
The World Congress of Faiths’ link with St Martin’s goes back a long way – as it was there that the memorial service for Sir Francis Younghusband was held in 1942. There is now a newly painted wall in the Visitors’ Centre at the church with the words of the Golden Rule from many scriptures – a reminder to all who come to the church of the shared calling of all religions to work for peace and the common good.
There have been complaints that the BBC coverage of the games focussed too much on Team GB. One of the most moving points of the service was when we sang “‘Finlandia,” the hymn “This is my song, O God of all the nations,” which combines love of one’s own country and universalism.
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.
Verses 1-2Lloyd Stone (1912-1992-3), Verse 3 attributed to Georgia Harkness.
A copy of the service is available at World Faiths.