Many faiths, one world

When Crawford Long Hospital pastoral services director Steve Overall was working as a hospital chaplain in Calgary in the 1980s, he joined a planning group for the religious services program of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. He moved to Atlanta in 1987, just missing that event, but this year he has another chance. Overall is chair of ACOG's Interfaith Advisory Group, which is working to meet the spiritual and religious needs of athletes, team officials, staff, and volunteers during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

"Since the Los Angeles games in 1984, there has been a tradition of having spiritual and religious resources in place for athletes," says Overall, who is also a clinical instructor in pastoral care in the Candler School of Theology. "We envision a center where people can practice their faith without having to leave the Olympic Village." The Religious Services Center will provide a place for visitors to worship, meditate, pray, or perform whatever observances their faith requires. There will also be an organized program of worship services in many languages and traditions, as well as emotional and spiritual counseling.

Overall's committee is responsible for a volunteer staff of twenty-nine pastoral associates, or chaplains, for the Olympic Village. "We've tried to mix that group up according to gender, race, ethnic tradition, and religious tradition, so that we have enough folks to service the needs of athletes," Overall says.

The Interfaith Advisory Group consists of representatives of many faiths, including Baha'i, Buddhism, Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. "We've talked about how they would imagine an athlete would make use of their particular faith tradition as they came to Atlanta to prepare for competition," Overall says. "We might hear from, say, a Buddhist athlete about things like meditation and chanting opportunities and spiritual reflection time.

"The very best part of this has been the coming together of multiple faiths in Atlanta. I think we'd all say that we have grown closer as a community. We have actually demonstrated in a very dramatic and faithful way our respect for one another."

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