Ellie Anders Thompson traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI program to connect young adult interfaith leaders to the UN and each other. Ellie is part of Golden Rule Project, an Affiliate of the United Religions Initiative North America. What follows is Ellie’s reflection on an interfaith service the group attended
By Ellie Anders Thompson
The gathering of the Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week was what I affectionately call a Prayer Parade. It goes like this, group of people from various religious traditions, sometimes non-religious, are asked to offer a prayer. At times the prayers are around certain themes, sometimes not, this time, around “world peace.” One after another folks of various faiths come to the microphone and say different versions in different languages of, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”
In my humble opinion, it’s just not enough in interfaith work any longer. It is colorful, shiny, and curious, but it’s just not going to cut it when it comes to the challenges we are facing. We know the greatest sources of social capital come from these religious and non-religious communities, and they, therefore, have the greatest potential to actually do something to create the potential for peace. I am not sure gathering in a room with different headdresses and sing-alongs are the actions that will have long-term effects toward peace.
The Surrey Interfaith Council, an Affiliate of URI North America, hosted an Interfaith Pilgrimage to mark United Nations World Interfaith Harmony Week, which is the first week of February every year. To read about other activities held to celebrate the week, click here.
Although the third annual Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage was officially cancelled due to heavy snowfall, there were many participants who moved with integrity to bring compassion, peace, understanding and solidarity to the forefront. The purpose of the event was to bring people from diverse backgrounds and worldviews together to affirm our collective commitment to building peace and understanding in our community.
The first pilgrimage was in response to the November 12, 2015 bombing attacks in southern Beirut and Paris. This year, we aimed to build solidarity with the victims and their families who had recently lost their loved ones in the Quebec shooting. We began with an exchange of blessings for peace and understanding at the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple and went past six other houses of worship: Northwood United Church, Laxmi Narayan Hindu Mandir, Gurdwara Sikh Sahib
Brookside, Surrey Jamia Muslim Masjid and the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara. A small ceremony was hosted at each site to cultivate in people a deeper sense of their own religious identity, while also buildingrelationship with people who come from different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Arriving at the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple, the blossom trees were covered with a thick blanket of snow. Icicles glistened and caught the gleaming rays of sunshine. David, who organized the walk, and Gordon, one of the volunteers, went there early in the morning to make sure that no one was stranded. Their safety was paramount. To their surprise, Robert, Andrea and their daughter, Sophia showed up. They had heard about the pilgrimage on the radio and they just could not miss out on the opportunity to explore the possibility of exploring the different houses of worship, build friendship with people from diverse backgrounds, share a meal and build solidarity with Canadians. This would also be an inclusive study field trip for Sophia.
A generous lunch was served to everyone at the Laxmi Narayan Hindu Mandir. Vinay introduced our team to their congregation and we participated in the spiritual offering ceremony. In keeping with Hindu practices and traditions, the society operates a Vivek Hindi School, which teaches class every Sunday. Meditation, yoga, and ESL classes are offered every week. The largest annual Hindu festivals are organized by their directors.
Trekking through the snow, Scott Reynolds’ contemplative words came to mind. A former event organizer and Minister of Youth from the United Churches of Langley, he said that: “When we are confronted with deep loss, fear often emerges in our thoughts. Walking and sharing a meal together is a tangible, bodily demonstration of unity that reminds us to let go of fear and move forward in love.”
We made our way to the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in the snowy blizzard. This is place of worship for the Sikhs in the Brookside and Bear Creek area. They gather to hear their spiritual leaders speak and to listen to holy hymns. Surinder, our host, received us graciously in the community kitchen.
We drank a warm cup of chai infused with the sweet aroma of cardamons, ate gelabee sweets and the social conversation blossomed over jobs, families, children and our travels in the world. We all share the same hopes and dreams for our chidren. He guided us upstairs to the prayer hall and informed us of the services offered during the week.
Heading to the Surrey Jamia Muslim Mosque, an air of sadness brought us back to a closer reality. I reflected on why I chose to lend a hand. David, the Surrey Interfaith Council team and I truly believe that the goal of the pilgrimage was to develop a sense of mutual trust, respect, an understanding across religious traditions, and to reduce religiously motivated violence, stereotyping, bigotry, or hatred.
Uniting people across faith and ideological lines creates an environment of interfaith harmony.
We were received by the Muslim congregants with appreciation, compassion, dignity, and respect. We stated clearly that the voice of a terrorist is not the overarching voice of Canadians. The true voice of Canadians embraces the fruits of the spirit: compassion, gentleness, goodness, grace, forbearance, fortitude, mercy, kindness, patience, self-control and understanding. David had gathered a dozen of messages of solidarity from the Surrey Interfaith Council and we were ready to share them all.
We shared their sadness and mourned for the victims and their families. We were engaged in a process of healing that was collaborative laden with compassion, grace, mercy and kindness.
We prayed with them, shared a cup of warm tea and had muffins and samosas. We were actively promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation to end politically and religiously motivated violence. We aspired to build cultures of compassion, peace understanding and healing in a fragmented world.
We left an hour later and walked to the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara to meet the congregants. We were served a warm dinner, went upstairs to the music and prayer hall and reflected on the blessings of the day.Connie Waterman’s words rang so true right in that moment. An event organizer from the Baha’i community, she reflected on the role of religious values in creating peace: “Each one of us has the ability, individually and collectively, to be compassion, selfless and loving. These attributes are strengthened by religious values taught by all the world’s great religions. Together we can create a better world by concentrating all the thoughts of our heart on love and unity, then aligning our actions to reflect that thought.”
The Amazing Tutors Children’s Foundation appreciates David Dalley, Gordon Leslie, Dr. Das and Connie Waterman and our amazing directors and the entire Surrey Interfaith Council for pursuing interfaith harmony, peace and non-violence within our city. Thank you, Surrey Interfaith Council, for providing the opportunity for all of us to participate in a giving and caring community. With permission from the kind and thoughtful members, we would like to share all these heart-felt and powerful messages of solidarity with the media, so everyone will have the opportunity feel the power of solidarity and unity: We are one and we are Canadians fighting for compassion, peace and understanding. The pilgrimage was surprisingly a snowy walk in beauty, compassion, grace and mercy. May we walk together very soon when spring knocks on our doors.
By Sari Heidenreich
Regional Coordinator, URI North America
There are special moments in life when things just click, when something you thought you knew takes on new life.
That happened for me yesterday with compassion.
It’s not that before yesterday I didn’t think compassion was important — or that I didn’t seek to practice it everyday. On the contrary, I was doing both of those things. But yesterday, sitting around a table with 25 people, all seeking to understand the role of compassion in their religion and spiritual journey, my understanding of compassion ballooned.
Garth Pickett, a board member of the URI Cooperation Circle Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC) and member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, shared with the group that, in the Bible, the word compassion is mostly used to describe a feeling while compassion in action is charity.
As someone raised in the Christian tradition, this set off about a hundred light bulbs in my brain.
Charity — that is the word used in that most famous and central of Bible passages — 1 Corinthians 13.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a)
“In seeing anyone else who is not at your level, your heart should cry,” shared Girish Shah, a member of the Jain faith and SiVIC board member. “If I see you as the ‘other’ is is a violence — violence of thought. We should see each person as a reflection of ourselves,” he continued.
Our Buddhist sister shared about the centrality of compassion in Buddhism and also emphasized the difference between compassion and pity — an entire conversation in its own right.
Our Unitarian brother shared that, in his tradition, they teach the inherent work and dignity of all. And our Unification brother passed along a central teaching of his faith, “When you see as a parent, there are no enemies.”
As we sat around that table, each sharing out of the heart and goodness of their faith, we became bound together in this mission of compassion for all. And I realized, in a new and deeper way, the Almighty’s calling of us all to a way and life of compassion.