*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

What the Olympics have taught us

17 August 2012

Peter Graystone has learnt much about the UK - none of it related to sport

BETWEEN the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games we have a moment to take stock. Here are three things the Games have allowed me to rediscover about this country.

First, no matter how vigorously its opponents object, the UK refuses to shake off Christian devotion. The first surprise of the Olympic opening ceremony was that it began with a hymn. As it happens, it was my favourite hymn, "Jerusalem". "I shall not cease from mental fight . . . 'til we have built Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land" describes everything I have tried to do since the day I put my faith in Jesus Christ.

We live in a society whose justice, welfare, and culture have been shaped over centuries by the principles of Jesus. These benefits of being nominally Christian are huge, because they have created a society in which, for instance, vulner-able people do not rot unaided, or face execu-tion without trial when they are a political inconvenience. The Christian heritage accounts for much of what makes life joyful - holidays, beauty in architecture and music, and contexts in which to welcome birth and face death.

The latter was underlined at the opening ceremony, in the choice of the hymn "Abide with me" as the way to remember those who died in 7/7, the day after London was announced as the host city for the Games, in 2005. Beautifully sung by Emeli Sandé, it seemed entirely appropriate that Akram Khan, a Muslim, should dance to accompany it.

The second delightful reminder is that British culture allows second chances. Thomas Heatherwick is the designer whose 56-metre- high sculpture B of the Bang, erected in Manchester after the 2002 Commonwealth Games, fell apart with catastrophic consequences. Heatherwick's studio paid £1.7 in damages after it was removed.

It is the very same designer, however, whose Olympic cauldron provoked such delight at the opening ceremony. Heatherwick's magnificent feat of engineering and sculpture, bringing 204 flames into one, provided a moment of true wonder, and redeems all previous failures.

Third, I have been reminded that the British have a complex relationship with strangers. I saw the best of it when the Olympic torch was paraded through my street. The coach ferrying the torch-carriers stopped just where I and a handful of neighbours were standing. The actor Sir Patrick Stewart dismounted, and said hello to an elderly lady. She evidently had no idea who he was. Nevertheless, she welcomed him to the street, made charming conversation, and offered him a sweet. She would have done the same to the greatest or least. I hope that 10,000 Christians welcoming strangers as they approach church doors on Sunday will do the same.

In contrast, during the opening ceremony, I used Twitter to publish this message: "Danny [Boyle, the director] did something remarkable. UK came across as a place of achievement, irreverence, justice, Christianity, dark and light. I recognise us." To my surprise, it was retweeted more than 100 times, which means that many thousands of people read it. I am shocked by the vitriol of people's responses when they know their invective will not be held to account. Guess which word they vigorously objected to.

And sport? I had almost forgotten that sport was part of the Olympics. But I have learnt that some of our team have done rather well.

Peter Graystone develops pioneer mission projects for Church Army.
Letters

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)