There is a sense of excitement in the air. The shops in the village have dressed up their windows in preparation for the event.
Every year our local tennis club puts on a competition that draws top tennis players from many different countries to these shores. Established in 1877, the Wimbledon Championships is arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. And it’s happening outside our home. Right now.
The Championships were cancelled last year because of the pandemic. Now, with the successful vaccine roll out and the easing of lockdown restrictions, the tournament has opened again, albeit in a limited capacity.
With the tennis stars and their entourage, comes the fans from all over the globe. And for two amazing weeks this tiny part of South West London becomes a hive of activity.
Into this throng come Carolyn Skinner and a group of volunteers. Armed with cakes, kindness, and prayers, they walk from Southfields to Wimbledon village looking to share God’s love with all they meet.
They are part of the Love All. Serve All. ministry. Started twenty years ago by Carolyn, the ministry seeks to welcome all to this area and share God’s goodness through grace-filled conversation and acts of kindness.
“When we started twenty years ago, people used to camp on the pavements queueing for their tickets,” Carolyn explains.
“This overnight queue moved into Wimbledon park a few years later. While people still pitched their tents, it became safer and more organised. There isn’t an overnight queue this year as organisers have wanted to limit numbers. But we’re still out and about.”
While the work of Love All. Serve All. has been low key this year, there have been prayer walks around the area during the past few days and Carolyn has encouraged churches to pray for everyone involved in the competition.
“I believe prayer is powerful,” says Carolyn. “We pray for the community, the spectators, the players, their coaches and everyone else involved in this very British event. And as we walk, the Lord leads our eyes to things we can pray for as well.
“It’s been a lovely way to bring people from different churches — from all denominations — together.”
In past years, when tennis fans camped out at Wimbledon park waiting for their tickets into the grounds of the All England Tennis Club, volunteers involved in Love All. Serve All. would walk up and share stress balls as well as offer a gospel to those who wanted one.
On each and every ball, volunteers would write words of affirmation. Words like “hope” and “love”. They would mix these balls in a bag and ask a tennis fan to reach in and take one, silently praying the right person would take the right ball at just the right time.
“We’d ask what that word meant to them and were often surprised by some of the responses. People would open up and it gave us an opportunity to pray for them and tell them they were loved by God.
“We’ve had lots of tennis fans come back with their stress balls the next year. Others have tracked us down to specifically tell us how God answered our prayers for them last year,” Carolyn recalls.
If Carolyn wanted people to experience God’s love through acts of kindness and service, it seems to be working. Even with limited numbers this year, Love All. Serve All. distributes about 20 home baked cakes a night and will probably do so every evening for the duration of the Championship.
“As the fans are no longer camped around, we visit the staff — security guards, stewards at the gates, people who manage the traffic — at the centre,” says Carolyn. “We thank them for their hard work and offer them cakes in the hope it will bring them some joy at the end of their day. They work very long hours and it can be stressful at times.”
The response has been encouraging.
“We are conscious the staff are working and don’t want to take too much of their time. But many have said we needed more positive people around. People like us to lift spirits after what has been a rather difficult year.”
It’s a busy two weeks. And I’m sure it’s a heck of a lot of work organising people for this event — from baking enough cakes to last two weeks to writing positive messages on every stress ball given out. So why are people walking around Wimbledon, deliberately going out of their way to show love to strangers?
Carolyn’s answer is because God loves us.
“We want people to know that God loves us and wants a relationship with us. And it is our hope that people will experience a tiny taste of God’s goodness through the kindness and welcome we offer.”
Ultimately this love is most powerfully displayed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can see just what it took for God to call us to Him. And I am praying the seeds these volunteers sow in the next two weeks will prompt many to seek Him out.
Love all, serve all indeed.