With less than two years to go until the Olympics hit town, Whistler’s small religious community is banding together to try and figure out how they can help.
Former Whistler councillor Kristi Wells says the different religious groups within the region are now working together for the first time.
So far, they’ve held meetings to brainstorm with about 25 invited leaders and representatives from the various churches within Whistler.
“All the five churches here have all come, which was really cool, because none of them had really met together or had a reason to,” Wells said. “…It’s this idea of unity, where Catholics can work with the Protestants, can work with the Mennonites. That’s where my passion comes in, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s one God.”
This isn’t the first time religious groups have stepped forward to get involved with the Games. Wells points out that during the Salt Lake City events, 350,000 bottles of water were supplied and distributed by Christian volunteers through the Salvation Army, while many staffed warming stations set up throughout the city.
Rick Christiaanse is spokesperson for the Vancouver Whistler Games Network (VWGN), the Christian umbrella organization formed about five years ago to offer support during the Olympics.
“We want to help VANOC where they need help,” Christiannse said. “VANOC has identified four areas in which they would like our assistance, and one of those is the homestay program, one is transportation, one is around parking, and one is around hospitality.”
Christiaanse says they were already able to offer assistance during the World Cup last week. When VANOC needed homestay accommodations for athletes, the VWGN used connections within the community to find available homes.
Despite earlier media reports, Christiannse stresses the VWGN isn’t hoping to bring Southern Baptist churches to Whistler. And Wells emphasizes that members of the VWGN won’t be forcing their religion on anyone.
“It’s not standing on the street corner evangelizing and passing out Bibles,” Wells said.
“It’s saying there is a Christian presence in our community, there is a Christian presence in Vancouver, and we’d like to participate and support.”
In Vancouver, Wells says the VWGN is working with VANOC to provide free parking at church parking lots for a park-and-ride service, and also may host neighbourhood live sites, creating a gathering place for people to watch events on television.
While there are almost 300 churches in Vancouver, Wells acknowledges they will be working on a much smaller scale here in Whistler, where there are only approximately 300 churchgoers.
They are looking at helping with serious community problems, like employee housing, and are looking at mobilizing youth who are too young to volunteer with VANOC and won’t have a structured environment during the Games.
“That’s going to be a real issue here because the high school is closed, you’re going to have all these kids that aren’t necessarily going to be at the event, most of their parents will be engaged or working – what are you going to do with them?” Wells pointed out.
The VWGN’s kick-off event in Whistler was sold-out, with over 200 people attending from within Whistler and surrounding communities of Squamish, Pemberton, Mt. Currie and the Lower Mainland.
The evening featured a presentation by the VWGN, a performance by Christian recording artist, Brian Doerksen, and a chance for attendees to sign-up as volunteers.
They are now planning on forming working groups in Whistler to decide how exactly they should get involved in the upcoming events.