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Love and Light

Region 1 - Interfaith Walk in Wimbledon

It was 1st April, a beautiful Spring day, when a band of devotees, some 36 strong, set off from Ganapathy Temple in Effra Rd to begin an exciting round of visits to a number of religious venues. This was ambitiously billed as a “walk” of 6.29 miles but fortunately cars were allowed when needed.

Our first stop was the Wimbledon & District Reform Synagogue. Very few of us had ever been in a synagogue and it was a most interesting experience. Though the building was unremarkable from the outside, our guide, Diane Barnett assured us that in their faith, it was not the external that mattered so much as what was inside. Once inside, we found ample evidence of a thriving community and, in the worship area, the sacred scrolls, on which are handwritten parts of the Old Testament, known as The Torah. Diane took one of these out from the "Holy Ark", removed it from its ornate cover and allowed two of our children to hold it – a real honour. Diane conveyed a sincere enthusiasm and love for the Jewish faith, explaining many symbols and rituals to us, but she was also very respectful of other faiths. Interestingly, there are two rabbis at the synagogue, both women, who share the duties of teaching and leading the congregation.

The next stop was the Buddhapadipa Temple and this time we all walked together, holding aloft banners proclaiming Swami’s teachings. This renowned temple is built in the exuberant Thai style, looking perhaps a little unexpected in the leafy roads of Wimbledon with its red, white and gold exterior. Inside the temple, we found the same ornate style with a central shrine showing 3 Buddhas, one of which, a black Buddha, is 1000 years old. All around, the walls were covered with colourful paintings depicting many scenes from the Buddha’s life, but also more recent additions in the form of Margaret Thatcher, Charlie Chaplin, Mother Theresa and Col. Gaddafi – as our guide said Buddhism tries to present things and people as they are, without judgement. The beautiful grounds provided a peaceful setting in which to enjoy a cup of tea before piling back into the cars and heading to the next port of call, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church.

There the Rev. Andrew Wakefield greeted us most warmly as old friends. An ardent enthusiast of Interfaith initiatives, Revd. Andrew is well known at the Ghanapathy Temple and the Sai Mandir and delighted in talking about his visits. A larger than life character, he talked to us at some length about many of the traditions of Christianity, especially Easter, and about St Andrew’s itself, a really lovely red-brick church. In particular, he emphasised the importance of "breaking bread" together – and to prove the point, his congregation had made some delicious snacks for us and he told us that he always thoroughly enjoyed the curries at the Temple and so it was nice to be able to return the hospitality.

Eventually, we set off on foot, and arrived back at Effra Road for aarathi and light refreshments. A most interesting day packed with new experiences and with much good will and tolerance from all concerned. Many thanks are due to the Youth in Region 1 and also Merton Sai Centre for making it all possible.

Maureen O'Hara
Wandsworth Group, Region 1