By Stuart Mann
The population of the parish of Little Trinity, Toronto, is about to get a lot bigger. This summer, 10,000 athletes, coaches and team officials will be moving into the neighbourhood to take part in the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
The Athletes’ Village, where they will be housed, is being built near the Don River in Toronto’s waterfront district. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the church and is situated within the parish boundaries.
The number of visitors to the neighbourhood is expected to climb even higher while the games are on, as the athletes’ families and friends come to visit and tourists explore the local shops and restaurants.
In the midst of all of this, Little Trinity plans to be an oasis of hospitality, offering everything from worship services to big screen TV viewing for those who cannot make it to the events.
“There’s going to be a lot of congestion down here, so we’re making plans and asking, ‘How can we be the best possible hosts to our visitors and neighbours, and how can we bring Jesus into the midst of this?’” says the Rev. Beverley Williams, the associate priest at the church.
She says the games are an excellent opportunity for evangelism. “In order to meet our neighbours and provide opportunity for conversation, we need to move people from distrust to trust, and the only way to break down that is by building a relationship. So this is a grand opportunity to do exactly that – to break down those barriers and move into that place of trust.”
The church plans to hold a sports-themed Vacation Bible School in early July as the games get underway. The church will be open every day for prayer, including Morning Prayer for the athletes before they go to their competitions. It will be holding its Music in the Park series every Thursday night on the lawn, with music from different lands. For local residents to who can’t make it to the events, it plans to show the games on large screen TVs while providing hotdogs, hamburgers and cold drinks.
“It’s about caring for our neighbours, meeting someone else and sharing that love that is planted in our hearts through the Gospel,” says Ms. Williams.
The Vacation Bible School program is provided by More Than Gold, a Christian organization that helps churches get involved in their communities during sporting events. Bishop Philip Poole, the area bishop of York-Credit Valley, sits on its executive committee. The Vacation Bible School program and other resources can be found on More Than Gold’s website.
Ms. Williams, who has assisted More Than Gold with community events, says there are lots of opportunities for Anglican churches to get involved in the games. The events will be held at 30 venues in southern Ontario, most of them in the diocese. (See this map for the location of venues.) As well, some the athletes will be housed outside of downtown Toronto, closer to their competitions.
“It’s an opportunity for churches throughout the diocese to be thinking, ‘What’s going on in our neighbourhood and what can we do? Can we offer chaplaincy? Can we get together and think about housing? Do the athletes’ families need a place to stay? Can we run the VBS for our neighbourhood?’ It can be something really simple like having a water station for thirsty visitors or opening up your church if it has air conditioning.”
She says churches can also advocate on behalf of the poor and homeless prior to the games by joining More Than Gold’s social justice committee. “They can ensure that our homeless people aren’t discarded to make Toronto look pretty. The committee’s other concern is human trafficking. We can make sure that the Pam Am Games planning committee hears that.”
After the games, the Athletes’ Village will become a mixed-use neighbourhood with affordable housing, new condominiums, a YMCA and a dormitory for George Brown College students, according to the games’ website.
A few blocks west of Little Trinity, St. James Cathedral is also planning for an influx of visitors during the games. “I think the church generally and Little Trinity and the cathedral specifically are being presented with a unique opportunity to reach out and share Christ’s love with these visitors and to really live out our faith in an exciting and fun time in the life of the city,” says the Rev. Simon Davis, assistant curate at the cathedral.
Like Little Trinity, the cathedral plans to hold some services in Spanish, the language spoken by many of the athletes. Mr. Davis is having conversations with other churches and faith groups about having a large event in the park next door to the cathedral. One possibility is showing some of the games, such as the opening ceremonies or the gold medal match in soccer, on large screen TVs.
He says an outdoor event, organized and run by faith groups, could be a special witness to the community. “That would be a really good, tangible demonstration of ecumenism, of working together and reaching out in love,” he says.