Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games – a God-given opportunity

Ecumenical Development Enabler for Birmingham Churches Together, Robert Mountford, shares how Christians in the city are preparing for next year's Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth Games will be held in Birmingham (with a few events taking place in neighbouring Sandwell, Wolverhampton, Coventry and Warwick) from Thursday 28 July to Monday 8 August 2022 inclusive. Preparations for the Games have been underway for several years and have continued through the Covid-19 related disruptions of the last 18 months. Alongside the planning for accommodation, transport, venues and security, a group of midlands Christian leaders has been meeting regularly over the last two years to collaborate concerning Christian involvement in the international gathering. 

The Commonwealth Games Churches’ Planning Group is co-chaired by Bishops Mike Royal (Apostolic Pastoral Congress) and David Urquhart (The Church of England’s Birmingham Diocese). Its members come from historic Churches, Black-Majority Churches and new Churches; and from Christian organisations, from across the midlands – and further afield – who each bring a particular expertise to the table. Prior to the arrival of Covid-19, planning group meetings were held in central Birmingham on a monthly basis. Since the Spring of 2020, the meetings have been held via Zoom. 

In order to expedite its business, the Churches’ Planning Group is operating through six themed groups: 

Young People and Apprenticeships
The Commonwealth Games, in common with any international games, provides an opportunity for young athletes to compete, young spectators to be inspired and young volunteers to participate. Kevin Davis, leader of the ‘Church at Junction 10,’ CEO of the Vine Trust Group and leader of the ‘Ladder for England’ Apprenticeship Campaigns, is anchoring the group which is focusing on the Churches’ ministry among young people in and around the Commonwealth Games. One of the groups providing input into this theme is KICK, a ministry which seeks to transform young people’s lives, with God’s love, through sport and support. KICK is taking the opportunity provided by the Commonwealth Games to extend its reach into the midlands. 

An important aspect of the Churches’ Planning Group’s offer to the Commonwealth Games is in the area of chaplaincy. Volunteers are already being trained so as to be able to provide a listening- and supportive-ministry to spectators, Games volunteers and staff members. CTE’s Body in Association Sports Chaplaincy UK is set to offer chaplaincy to the Athletes’ Village. Steve Bavington, CEO of Birmingham-based Chaplaincy Plus, is chairing a strong sub-group that includes Warren Evans (CEO of Sports Chaplaincy UK), Bishop David Carr (Order of St Leonard) and Revd John Butcher (Lead chaplain to the West Midlands Police). 

Wellbeing and health
Dr Beverly Lindsay OBE, Deputy Lieutenant of the West Midlands and a member of the New Testament Church of God congregation in Handsworth, chairs the sub-group which is exploring how Christians ministries can support the opportunities provided by the 2022 Commonwealth Games to promote good physical and mental health. In pursuit of this goal, Beverly has brought together a group of young leaders, including Nathan Dennis of First Class Legacy

Racial inequality
Birmingham is home to many ethnic groups, both well-established and more recently-arrived. The city has a large number of congregations which trace their roots back to the Caribbean. Bishop Dr Desmond Jaddoo, who chairs this sub-group, and who is constantly working for justice for the Windrush generation, sees the opportunity of the visit by athletes and spectators from Caribbean Commonwealth countries to further challenge racism, defuse stereotypes and build better understanding for the future. This sub-theme links well with the growing ‘Time4Change’ movement in the city, linking the senior leaders of Birmingham’s historic, Black-Majority and new Churches.

Combatting human trafficking
Sadly, it is well-known that international games are accompanied by an increase in human trafficking. This sub-group is seeking to link the numerous midlands faith-based groups who are involved in building awareness of modern slavery and/or supporting rescued victims, in order to supplement the work being done by West Midlands Police and the statutory authorities. The expertise on offer from the Salvation Army is particularly helpful in developing this themed area. 

Church engagement and legacy
Robert Mountford, Ecumenical Development Enabler for Birmingham Churches Together, chairs the sub-group which is aiming to build church engagement in and around the Commonwealth Games, with the intention that relationships built and cooperation established will continue long after the games are over. Plans include an online prayer relay to track with the Queen’s Baton Relay through Commonwealth nations over a nine-month period, an ecumenical service at St Chad’s Cathedral on the Sunday prior to the Games, and a canopy of non-stop prayer and worship though the 12 days of the Games. 

The members of the Commonwealth Games Churches’ Planning Group see the staging of the Games in the West Midlands as a God-given opportunity to pray, plan and work together in the lead-up to the Games in the summer of 2022. They are also praying that the cooperation will not end with the closing ceremony, but rather will lead to a new era of inter-Church understanding, respect, friendship and collaboration that will long outlast the Games and will result in blessing for the whole region. 

Read more about the work of Birmingham Churches Together