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Love all

Carolyn Skinner of Third Space Ministries told Claire Brine why churches have been serving tennis fans at the tournament

Last year we prayed with about 100 people in the park

WHILE the likes of Serena Williams and Roger Federer have been hitting the Wimbledon courts over the past two weeks, Carolyn Skinner and her team of 100 volunteers have been meeting and greeting thousands of tennis fans queueing for tickets.

‘We call ourselves Love All Serve All,’ explains Carolyn, who set up the initiative 18 years ago. ‘It’s obviously a tennis pun, but we do believe that Jesus came to love and serve everyone – and he calls Christians to do the same.

‘Every night from nine o’clock, a group of volunteers head to Wimbledon Park to meet the people who are camping for tickets, and say to them: “Welcome to the most famous queue in the world. We are from local churches and want to give you a free drink and cookie and show that God loves you.” Our aim is to sow seeds of faith, so that people go away from the tournament thinking that God is good and Christians are OK.’

A fan of tennis since childhood, Carolyn always knew that she wanted to combine her enjoyment of the game with her passion for Jesus. When she moved from Essex to Wimbledon in 2000, she looked for an opportunity.

‘I spoke to churches in the area, asking if they were doing any outreach at the tournament. They all said no, but they would be happy for me to organise something. So I did.’

The first year Carolyn ran Love All Serve All, she managed to gather a group of 20 volunteers who were willing to chat and hand out snacks to queueing tennis fans. As the years went by, the number of people wanting to take part increased.

‘Today we have 100 volunteers from about 20 churches,’ she says. ‘Some people come along to help for just one day of the competition, whereas others do several days. The atmosphere at Wimbledon Park is like a festival, so it’s lots of fun.

‘Every evening for an hour, the volunteers head to the park where, in groups of two or three, they walk along a row of tents, chatting to people and handing out free cans of drink, cookies and the book Love Wins. Basically it’s a copy of the Gospel of Luke, plus a tennis quiz and a little bit of information about who we are. We say to people: “Look, you can only get this book in the Wimbledon queue! You’ve got loads of time to kill, so why not take one and have a read?”’

Another service that the volunteers offer to queueing tennis fans is prayer.

Carolyn says: ‘Last year we prayed with about 100 people in the park, just at their tents. We offer each person a free stress ball, which is designed to look like a tennis ball, and it’s marked with the Love All Serve All logo. Each ball also has a word written on it, such as “Hope” or “Believe”. When campers pick out a stress ball and see their word, we ask them if it means anything to them. The door is then open for more meaningful conversations.

‘Sometimes people say something along the lines of: “I got the word hope – and I lost my job six months ago, so I really need some hope in my life right now.” I love that these tennis fans come to the tournament for a Centre Court experience, but some of them go home having had a God experience.’

As well as befriending people who are queueing in the park, the Love All Serve All volunteers are on hand to support the tennis stewards. Over the course of the fortnight, they get to know one another well.

‘We have a little gazebo which we use as a base, and often the stewards will come over to us for a chat,’ Carolyn says. ‘They tell us about their day and we offer to pray for them. Last year, one woman said to us: “This is the most I’ve been to church all year!” She saw our presence in the park as valuable.’

And she’s not alone. For years, the local council and staff members at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club have been expressing to Carolyn their appreciation for the Love All Serve All initiative.

‘Every year, I write to officials at Wimbledon, letting them know that we will be greeting people at the queues again, and I’ve received wonderful letters in response,’ she says. ‘They say that they see us as part of the welcoming committee for the competition. That’s such a compliment.

‘Also, when the senior stewards are training the junior stewards, they talk about Love All Serve All and what we offer. We have a good relationship with them.

‘In all that we do, our aim is to welcome people to Wimbledon and show them something of God’s love.’

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