British Unitarians and Free Christians have welcomed athletes, officials and all spectators and visitors to the United Kingdom for the Olympics and Paralympics for coming months.
Derek McAuley , Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches said, “The Olympics and Paralympics will be a memorable occasion and we will not see the like again in our lifetimes in this country.
We welcome athletes, officials and all spectators and visitors to our country and hope they will have an enjoyable experience. We particularly greet Unitarians and Unitarian-Universalists who will be coming to the United Kingdom, perhaps for the first time. Everyone is most welcome to join us for worship and fellowship in our churches. Please check for details in the “Find a Congregation” section of the General Assembly website.”
I am pleased that Rev Cliff Reed has agreed that we can mark this occasion by publishing a prayer and two of his poems.
An Olympic Prayer
In honour of their ancient gods the Hellenes gathered,Cliff Reed
under the peaceful aegis of the Olympic Truce,
seeking areth - excellence and fulfilment - in athleticism,
all else that made for manhood. Through 1500 years
the ideal slumbered as the grass grew over ruined
Now, as athletes of every nation gather from around the World,
Preparing to compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games
with the prayers of many faiths on their lips and in their hearts,
we give thanks for their dedication, and for the excitement and
exultation which their quest for excellence will bring.
And we give thanks, in hope, that honesty, fair play,
And sportsmanship, will win out over all temptation
to cheat, whether for money or for vainglory: to gain
the hollow "victory" rather than face the honourable defeat.
We reflect on the Games of the recent past, calling
to mind the men and women whose prowess stirred
our emotions, and whose joy we presumed the share,
For them and for their achievements we give thanks.
And we remember the Olympic triumphs that meant
more than just winning a race; that took apart the lies
of evil tyranny and inhuman ideology; that were a
victory for truth and right and the human spirit.
With sorrow we recall the times when all semblance of
Olympic Truce was lost to war or shattered by terrorists.
With these tragedies in mind, we pray that any who
would break the Truce this time will repent, or be foiled if they won't.
May all who run, or jump, or swim, or throw,
or otherwise compete in the Games, gain that
incorruptible crown that comes from the victory
of the spirit. In that race we can all take part and,
by the grace of God win. May it be so.
The first Olympiad I rememberCliff Reed
was Melbourne in 1956,
when Dawn Fraser parted the waters
and Australia rejoiced.
In 1960 Abebe Bikila padded barefoot
down Rome's torch-lit Appian Way
and we knew that Ethiopia , with all Africa,
was claiming her rightful place at last.
'64, and the Games, founded beneath one sacred mountain,
were held in the shadow of another, Fuji-san:
Ann Packer ran to gold and golden Mary leapt
to long-jump victory in Tokyo.
Mexico City in'68, the year of revolutions;
clenched fists of Black Power shook the Games,
and Bob Beamon's amazing jump
spanned the world.
A Russian waif called Olga steals hearts,
Mark Spitz swims to seven golds,
but Munich in '72 was when Black September
brought murder to the Games.
In 1976, in Montreal, the boycotts begin;
first it's the Africans.
Nadia, Romania's child-gymnast, amazes
- and disturbs. What childhood was hers?
Moscow 1980: the Games where Alan Wells
and Daley Thompson, Coe and Ovett;
received their golds under the Olympic flag,
and the Americans stayed at home.
Rocket-man opens proceedings in LA
but the Soviets won't come in '84.
Tessa and Fatima chucked their spears
and smiled their smiles atop the podium.
Seoul in '88, and everyone's there again at last;
Flo-Jo - so fast, so beautiful, is America's pride;
Ben Johnson - disgraced, disqualified,
is Canada's shame.
'92 in Barcelona, Olympic homage to Catalonia.
Linford is Britain's hundred metres hero
and Sally hurdles to gold,
wonder-woman caped in the Union Flag.
"Georgia on my mind", sings Gladys Knight in '96,
and the Games have come to Atlanta;
Muhammad Ali, mighty Olympian, lights the flame,
Michael Johnson, golden-shod, runs to double gold.
The Games go south to Sydney in 2000;
Cathy Freeman kindles the flame
then runs and wins for two Australias,
carries both their flags and makes them one.
2004 and the Games go home to Hellas:
in Athens, Kelly strides to two-fold victory,
and can scarcely believe it herself,
eyes popping at the scoreboard!
A lightning Bolt from Jamaica
seared through the Beijing Bird's Nest;
it's 2008, when golden Rebecca swam to victory
and a Chinese spectacle took our breath away.
London 2012, a verse yet to be written
as the torch is carried by a snapshot of humanity
through the tempest and the sunshine
of a British summer.
Jesse Owens - Berlin 1936
Born in Alabama,Cliff Reed
an unnoticed boy
in Jim Crow days.
But he could run,
Oh, how he could run!
And that was noticed.
At High School
it was noticed,
then at Ohio State.
Three world records
in nineteen thirty-five,
and then Berlin.
One-hundred metres, gold.
Two-hundred metres, gold.
Long jump, gold.
Four-hundred metres relay, gold.
Four gold medals in one Games,
another record broken.
Broken too, the Nazis' racist myths.
But not his homeland's,
they took longer.
As did the recognition.
the Medal of Freedom,
in nineteen seventy-six.
Forty years on
from Jesse Owens'
triumph in Berlin.
“An Olympic Prayer” appeared in “The Inquirer” (7 July 2012) and we thank them for agreeing to have it published.
The poems “Olympic Retrospective” and “Jessie Owens - Berlin 1936” formed part of an Olympic Torch Relay event at Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House, when the Torch came past the Meeting House.
Rev Cliff Reed has been Minister at Ipswich Unitarian Meeting House for 36 years. He has published extensively including “Unitarian? What’s That?” and “Sacred Earth: Words for Prayer and Reflection” and ”Till The Peoples All Are One: Darwin's Unitarian Connections” by Lindsey Press, all available from Unitarian Headquarters