Monday, 24 September 2012

Worshippers Part 2: A Day of Peace and Unity in Isleworth

When I contacted the Hussaini Islamic Mission in early September, requesting permission to attend one of their Friday sessions of sermon and prayer, the mosque's secretary, Javed, not only welcomed me to attend but also offered to arrange for someone to sit with me to translate the Urdu service.

Within a few days of this gracious offer, I received an invitation to the centre to celebrate the UN’s International Day of Peace, scheduled to include words from the leaders of other faiths in the Isleworth area, the lighting of candles for peace in the world and an art exhibition by the mission's children.

Entering a mosque just a few days after the grotesque “Innocence” video was viewed around the world was no small step, particularly for a quiet blond American woman.  But that hesitation was quickly dissipated by a warm welcome and gift of a headscarf.  For the next couple of hours, I listened to a succession of messages from leaders of the Muslim faith, a rabbi, a northern Irish Anglican minister, a woman representing the Buddhist community, a Sikh granthi, as well as Isleworth’s Conservative Member of Parliament, Mary Macleod.  

Each talked about the values of peace and unity that we share as a community, which begins with inner peace through faith, and which then flows out into the wider community and world.  For me, one of the most memorable aspirations posed was the dual notion that we may agree to disagree on matters of belief and doctrine, but that we can nonetheless live and work together in harmony.  And that our common values can be an example to the wider world and the next generation, despite ethnic and religious conflagrations elsewhere.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Worshippers Part 1: The people of faith who live and worship near my house

As my interest in apologetics has grown over the years, I’ve come to realise that if I’m going to take 1 Peter 3:15 (be prepared to give an answer) and 1 John 4:4 (test the spirits) seriously and sincerely, then I feel I need to not only study the doctrines, beliefs and practices of other faiths and worldviews, but I need to get to know some of the people who have made serious commitments to these things. What better place to explore than in my own backgarden. So I’ve decided to visit a new church, temple or other place of worship at least a couple of times a month for the next few months. I’m hoping to meet my neighbours, learn about their faiths and programmes, see how they treat a visitor and basically take a small step into the unknown for me. I’m not a seeker or someone unsure of their own faith; this is more my own comparative religious experience project and an attempt at mutual understanding.

I should say at the outset that my past experiences of religious attendance has included: Roman Catholic churches (mostly in New England) from birth to 18 yrs, a Baptist church in Highbury Fields, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in Hampstead, several Christian churches in the environs of Genval, Belgium, St. John’s Church Egham (where I came to faith), Christ Church Virginia Water, a couple of yoga classes, some presentations at Andrew Cohen's EnlighteNext centre in Islington, a talk by Marianne Williamson at St. James Picadilly and now Holy Trinity Church Richmond.

I’m hoping to visit the following places of worship in and around Kew Gardens, London:

  • a Christian Science church 
  • a Jewish synagogue
  • a mosque
  • a Buddhist Vihara 
  • a Hindu temple
  • a meditation centre 
  • a Quaker meeting house
  • a Unitarian church
  • a Mormon temple 
  • a Scientology centre
  • a variety of Christian denominations

Though it probably won’t be possible to take many pictures, unfortunately, I’m hoping to make some candid observations on this faith odyssey.