THE wheelchair basketball proved less noisy and disruptive than
might have been expected: the three-a-side match, contested under
the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, impressed the congregation in its
skill and grace, and proved to be a highlight of the first-ever
Paralympic service on Sunday (
News, 17 August).
Organised in conjunction with the British Paralympic Association
and the English Federation of Disability Sport, "Courage and Faith:
The opening service for the London 2012 Paralympic Games", was not
part of the official programme, but was billed as an "act of
worship", "part of the Christian response" to the Games. Lord Coe
was unable to attend, and most of the current Paralympic athletes
were too immersed in training to appear.
The Chapter and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard
Chartres, received the Lord Mayor, before a short procession of
Paralympic medallists took their places under the dome. They were
greeted warmly by the Canon in Residence, the Revd Mark Oakley, who
led prayers of thanksgiving, asking for God's blessing on the
Games, and ending with the Lord's Prayer.
Later intercessions were led by representatives from other
faiths, but it was a distinctively Christian service, with Bible
readings (Micah 4 and Matthew 5, though not 1 Corinthians 9) and
hymns (among them, "Fight the good fight" and "For the healing of
The wheelchair athlete Anne Wufula-Strike contributed to a sense
of living faith, giving her personal testimony to sport as a means
of witness: "God sees me as perfect. . . He uses me and has a
purpose for me." She went on to describe how sport could also
educate and empower people, especially in the developing world, to
fight the stigmatisation of disability and "to be included in their
In this, she echoed the address by Baroness Grey-Thompson, the
Paralympic gold medallist, who described how the Games could
"challenge the accepted view of what disabled people can do. . .
Paralym-pic sport has the power to change the world."
Speaking to me before the service, the Baroness admitted that
she found it "challenging to be part of a religious service", but
that she was glad to be part of the celebration. She had not been
surprised at the success of the London Olympics, especially because
of all the hard work and preparation that had gone into their
organisation: her main emotion was one of relief. She also
described how she had been hugged in sheer delight by a stranger on
an Underground train, as if she had contributed directly to the
British medal successes. "Everyone wants something to celebrate,"
Another highlight was the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and
Hearing Children, fresh from performing at the Olympic opening
ceremony. Their song "Respect" summed up much of the service:
"Raise your expectations, accept no limitations. . . Keep your
integrity - respect! It's what the world needs now."
Bishop Chartres led the congregation in applause "for all
Paralympians" at the end. They departed down ramps and past live
displays of Paralympic sports from archery to wheelchair
FIFTY disabled performers, including non-competing
Paralympians and rehabilitating soldiers, were due to appear in an
acrobatic spectacular above the stadium floor in the opening
ceremony of the Paralympic Games in the Olympic Park in Stratford,
east London, on Wednesday, writes Madeleine
Based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, the
ceremony, "Enlightenment", was designed as a celebration of the
history of science and discovery in Britain.
At Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birthplace of the
Paralympic movement, the Aylesbury Churches Network hosted an
opening-night community festival, featuring huge inflatable games,
and opportunities to try Paralympic sports.
The UK Director of the charity More Than Gold, Jon
Burns, said that it was "a shining example of the way we are seeing
churches working together to demonstrate the reality of what they
believe to the communities they are part of".
Among the British competitors, Anna Sharkey, a member of
the goalball team, has spoken to the charity Through the Roof about
her Christian faith: "I think the difference it makes is that you
have no fear. . . I know my God, my Father in heaven, loves me,
whatever I do."
The Paralympic Flame travelled from Stoke Mandeville to
the Olympic Park during a 24-hour relay conducted by "inspirational
people from across the UK". On Saturday, the bells of Bath Abbey
rang out to celebrate Bath and North East Somerset Council's
Paralympic Flame Celebration.
The Church of England's Liturgical Commission has
released a new prayer for the Games which speaks of a vision of the
world "united in mutual respect and tolerance".
The chairman of London 2012, Lord Coe, paid tribute to
Ludwig Guttmann, the father of the Paralympic Games, on Wednesday:
"It is simply not possible to stand here without feeling a
mountainous debt of gratitude for one of the world's great
Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a Jewish doctor who fled
Nazi Germany just before the Second World War, and established the
National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, organised the
International Wheelchair Games to coincide with the London Olympics
in 1948. Twelve years later, the first Paralympic Games were held