Sikhism – Ujjal Kular. Sikhism began in 1469 with the teachings of Guru Nanak in the Punjab (part of Pakistan since 1947). He opposed the caste system, intolerance and tyranny, and religious division, saying “I belong to the human race”. For 30 years he travelled with his message. He did not regard himself as special but the servant of God. He taught practical ways of conquering selfishness and ignorance; the unity of the Fatherhood of God and the family of all. He was therefore seen as a threat to the priesthood.
The word “Sikh” means learner and follower. The original Sikhs included Muslims, Hindus and Christians. “Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living.” After Guru Nanak died there were 10 Gurus, each adding to Sikhism. The 1st outlawed the burning of the widow at the funeral of her husband. The 5th built the Golden Temple (a place of pilgrimage today) in Amritsar in the Punjab, and introduced the custom of the Langar meal. The 6th collected the hymns that became the first half of the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib. The 7th introduced the symbol of two swords, representing social justice and spiritual loyalty. The 8th was a 5 year old child dying of smallpox at 8. The 9th taught the Sikhs to defend themselves from persecution, and the 10th Guru Gobind Singh started the Khalsa for those who wanted to show their devotion, who are initiated in a special baptism ceremony. This day is marked each year in April as Vaisakhi.
Male Khalsa Sikhs have the middle name Singh (lion) and females Kaur (Princess). The Khalsa adopt the 5 K’s: uncut hair (and a turban for men), a wooden comb, an iron wrist bracelet, an iron dagger and cotton underwear. These represent reminders to defend their faith.
In Sikhism there is no caste system, no child marriage, and women are equal.
Besides believing in one God, working for a living (Ujjal is a driving instructor) and good social behaviour are important, particularly hospitality. They welcome the stranger, and at the langar meal in the gurdwara temple (which they say belongs to all) they provide free food after the service, and everyone is seated together to show equality. Sikhs may attend the gurdwara on regular weekends or occasionally such as for special occasions, such as the naming of a child, The Guru Granth Sahib takes centre stage at services, and is put to bed each night to signify its role as leader of the Sikhs. Each gurdwara has a President, Secretary and Treasurer. Marriages takes place there. Sikhs are allowed meat, and although alcohol and drugs are discouraged, they drink at weddings.
Sewa meaning service to others in the community is very important to Sikhs.
Thetford has a statue commemorating Maharajah Duleep Singh, who is also buried there, who was brought to England by Queen Victoria after the Sikh army was defeated by the British, to live at Elvedon.
Ujjal belongs to the Norfolk and Norwich Sikh Society.
Liberal Judaism. Annie Henriques spoke to us about the Liberal Jews in Norwich, numbering around 70. They meet on Saturdays at the Old Meeting House in Colegate, used on Sundays by the Congregational Church.
Annie’s grandfather returned from working in India and set up the first Liberal Jewish synagogue in 1901 in St John’s Wood, London. Liberal Jews with Reform Jews are part of, but more radical than, UK Progressive Judaism.
When Annie moved with her young family to Norwich, she felt the need in 1989 to set up a Liberal Jewish Synagogue. They reverence Jewish tradition, preserving what is good in the past, but living in the present, having a more accessible approach to Judaism, taking part in Interfaith activities. They still observe major festivals and read through the Torah scroll.
Their current rabbi visits monthly, otherwise services are led by members. Annie has been Chair of the Synagogue. The Friday night Sabbath meal at home is the cornerstone of local Jewish family life, whether fully practising or not. They light candles, use Sabbath prayers, a wine cup, and the Challah loaf on a plate. The meal follows of chicken soup and roast chicken or fried fish.
It is a time for the family to reflect on the past week together. About a fifth of Jews will then attend synagogue on Saturday morning. The sabbath meal is important as a community and family event even if people are secular Jews, but remaining culturally Jewish.
Liberal Jews, in contrast to Orthodox Jews, will mix meat and milk, but avoid shellfish and pork. They will drive on the Sabbath, and do manual tasks, and go out to work. Synagogue prayers and services and sermons do not include Hebrew and focus more on today’s world, dealing with social justice and topical issues, and more participation. Bar Mitzvahs will happen when children are more mature at 15 or 16. Jews from diverse backgrounds and life stances are welcome, with mixed congregations and female rabbis. They may marry non-Jews and and are not in such a rush to arrange funerals. Their views may be more on the left of politics.
Annie was celebrating her 70th birthday that evening, producing a Challah loaf freshly baked from her own oven. Her husband has unfortunately died recently of Covid.
City of Sanctuary by Marie-Lyse Numuhoze and Frances Middleton.
City of Sanctuary UK holds the vision that our nations will be welcoming places of safety for all and proud to offer sanctuary to people fleeing violence and persecution. In September 2007, with the support of the City Council and over 70 local community organisations, Sheffield became the UK’s first ‘City of Sanctuary’. Since then the umbrella organisation, has supported the development of a network of groups, engaged in Streams of Sanctuary, Sanctuary Awards and activities intended to promote welcome to people seeking sanctuary, acting as a rallying cry to other organisations and individuals to offer sanctuary. There are lots of different ways to set up a group, formal or voluntary, who then agree to focus on those needing sanctuary, to register, and to be in contact with other groups.
Norwich City of Sanctuary There is a Steering Group which is responsible for the strategic direction and many of the day to day activities of the movement including maintaining the web site, organising and publicising events and managing Sanctuary Awards in Norfolk. Currently there are two Streams of School and Arts. The Interfaith talk hoped Faith Communities would join the Octagon Unitarian Chapel becoming part of the “Faiths Stream” as part of their good practice to welcome the stranger.
Quaker Weddings, Quaker Funerals and the Quaker Business Method. Jonathan Robinson from the Waveney Interfaith group enlightened us on the Quaker practices at weddings and funerals. He started by sharing his dyslexic difficulties and coping strategies. His approach enhanced the emotional and spiritual appeal of the two topics. His presentation focused on the heart of the wedding, which takes place during a regular worship meeting with the moment when the vows are exchanged initiated by the couple themselves.
Any interventions in all Quaker meetings are known as testimonies, and allow for friends and family to offer support on such occasions.
Deaths involve professional funeral services, but at the Quaker meeting the coffin is placed at the centre for written, symbolic and spoken testimonies to mark the loss of a member.
Jonathan’s personal experience shone through his descriptions and also highlighted the distinctive nature of Quaker practice. Between sections there was a pause for reflection and questions. Observations by two other Quakers who were also present added to our understanding.
The Harbour Centre. Yusra Khan talked to us about her work and how she grew up in a Muslim family in London and Cambridge.
The Harbour Centre is the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for Norfolk which provides a free and confidential service to victims of rape, attempted rape, or a sexual assault, regardless of whether they choose to report the crime to Police. Jointly commissioned by Police and NHS Services, remaining completely independent of the Police, it supports people of all genders, identities and ages living in Norfolk.
The project with which Yusra is involved has been funded until March 2023. It aims to increase engagement with individuals from groups who are under-represented within their service. This includes, as well as others: *Ethnic Minorities Faith groups*. Her role is reaching out to services to increase knowledge of the barriers these groups face, and to establish whether there are any changes within the service that could be made to overcome these.
Information, referral forms and contact details are on the website: The Harbour Centre. It provides emotional and practical support to individuals but can refer them to specialist services in Norfolk or refer them for talking therapies or counselling. Practical support for a possible court process is also on offer.
Paganism. Chris Wood is a Pagan living in Norwich. Paganism is rooted in the Earth while reaching for the Sky. Chris was brought up Christian, but came to question aspects of that Faith in adolescence and then found A level RE an eye-opener, expanding his quest. He always felt closer to Divinity by a stream or in a wood than in a building, and the discovery of Paganism felt like coming home.
In Paganism, the land is key; everywhere is sacred, but some places are more sacred than others. There are three characteristics of a religion: belief, relationship and experience. In Paganism, it is relationship and experience which are prioritised. Paganism is polytheist and pantheist, with many gods, goddesses and heroes, as well as the Fair Folk or elves. As well as group or individual ritual for marking the seasons and honouring the gods, magic (including divination) plays a major role.
There are several different Pagan paths: various forms of Pagan Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Shamanism and Classical traditions, but there is also a common festival Wheel of the Year, celebrating the annual dance of the Earth and Sun, to which other festivals are added by the different traditions, and the Lunar cycle is celebrated as the tides of our lives.
Chris spoke of its many traditions and rituals, spanning examples from past centuries and different continents and practices. Paganism’s roots can be traced through literature, arts and crafts movements, ceremonial magic and freemasonry, folk magic and folklore. Questions followed about how Paganism impacted on a person’s inner life and social actions, Stonehenge, the afterlife, Moots and meeting together.
Exploring the intersection of Race and Faith. Rev Karlene Kerr is Norwich Anglican Diocese Bishop’s Adviser for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Affairs. She introduced the topic through a review of the history of Christian mission, highlighting its aim of evangelism and colonization. Although she detailed exceptions, black people were stigmatised using the curse of Ham in Genesis, colonization, slavery, and mission was not perceived as having welcome at its heart. As time went on, Africa became more Christian than Europe, with only a third of Christians worldwide being white.
Including current examples of racism, and the latest report by the Church of England “From Lament to Action”, she showed how race was still a factor when practising faith, although God makes us different and equal. Her approach was just right, giving the historical and religious background to racism. She combined relevant knowledge with clear explanations highlighting the problems of Christian “mission” and was happy to refer to her personal experiences and anecdote.
From the responses, she was effective in opening people’s minds to the particular concerns of the black community in the past and continuing today, which perhaps many had not focussed on before and not in dialogue with an erudite professional member of the black community.
Within the past year an elderly resident of a Norfolk village was in hospital and when the black doctor approached his bed in scrubs, asked his wife why the cleaner was asking him so many questions. To have the opportunity to talk with someone like Karlene, herself from Jamaica and coming to England when she was 12, was a valuable experience for our members.
The Seven Principles of Spiritualism. Rona explained her understanding of the 7 Principles of Spiritualism, which form the basis the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) Spiritualism. Spiritualism follows no creed or dogma and the Principles give guidance to help us in our physical and spiritual life. Each individual may have a different understanding of them depending on their knowledge and spiritual development at various stages of their life.
Modern Spiritualism began on 31st March 1848 when events in Hydesville USA proved beyond doubt that communication with the spirit world was possible. The Seven Principles were brought to us through the mediumship and inspiration of Emma Hardinge Britten (1823 – 1899) and were incorporated into the Memorandum of Association when the Spiritualists’ National Union was formed in 1901.
- The Fatherhood of God. God is Love and Light and is the divine creative source of all that is or ever will be in the universe. We are all part of that creation and contain a spark of that divine energy within us. God loves us all equally.
- The Brotherhood of Man. It follows therefore that we are as one family of siblings and deserve equal love and respect from each other regardless of nationality, sexuality, colour, religion etc.
- The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels. Ancient peoples regularly communed with their ancestors in spirit and since 1848 that communication has become available again through mediums bringing messages from loved ones in the spirit world. Highly evolved souls or Angels also bring us spiritual knowledge and healing.
- The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul. We are all spirits currently experiencing life in a physical body. Spirit is energy and energy can change form but cannot be destroyed so when the body dies, we continue with our life after life. We are all eternal beings.
- Personal Responsibility. We are free to make choices but must then take the consequences of our actions. Thoughts are as important as actions.
- Compensation and Retribution Hereafter for all the Good and Evil Deeds done on Earth. This is also effective in our lives now as every action has a reaction. God is neither vengeful nor judgemental but when we return to the spirit world, we will look at the balance of our lives and judge ourselves in the light of Truth.
- Eternal Progress Open to Every Human Soul. God never gives up on us and no human soul is ever condemned for eternity or denied progress because of any wrongdoings while on Earth. We are guided and supported by those in the spirit world who love us dearly and when we ask for help, we will always be shown the way.
For more information from a source of greater knowledge and experience, Rona recommends going to https://www.snu.org.uk/7-principles to read an article by Minister Barry Oates, who has also written several books about the 7 Principles of Spiritualism and these are available here:-
Funeral and Bereavement Services. Lucy Coote explained her role as Community Ambassador for Rosedale Funeral Homes based in Norfolk and Suffolk. These arrange funerals which are aimed at being personal to the loved one who has died. Lucy also runs community activities to support charities in practical and fundraising ways. She provides Bereavement courses for the Workplace (to have a policy), Families, School students, Ministers and the Police. She encourages people to write down and talk to relatives about their wishes for their own funeral. She made a training video to show what happens at death, and commissioned the Interfaith video on our website.
Support resources: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/
World Religion Day. A group of ten local Bahai’s helped us celebrate annual World Religion Day which the Bahai religion began in 1955. Their presentation focused on their central belief that “unity can be a reality”, that different religions are chapters in the same book. Discussion included not turning one’s back on a former religion but enlarging your vision. Bahai’s are all urged to conduct an independent investigation of faith to transform both your personal life and the community around you. There is one God who has responded to different needs at different times. Bahais, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Spiritualists attending identified common areas of agreement as they talked about their own faith journeys and meeting people from different faiths.
From the Archives and Other Interesting Articles
The following talks were given during Interfaith Week November 2014, marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1. The copyright of these articles remains with the authors.