On Saturday 4th June, Jane Mortimer and I went on a very interesting walk arranged by Waltham Forest Women’s Inter Faith Network. It was advertised as Healing in Harmony and involved visiting seven places of worship of different faiths, in the borough of Waltham Forest, walking from one to the other.
There were about thirty people on the walk, although people came and went throughout the day.
We joined the walk shortly after 9:30am at the Bhaki Yoga Centre on Forest Road where we went inside. After taking off our shoes, we sat on the floor and listened to some Hare Krishna chanting accompanied by two women, one playing a sitar and the other an Indian drum. This went on for some time and then we were regaled with cups of hot Indian tea before leaving to go to the nearby Hindu Temple in Bedford Road, near the Bell Corner.
After taking off our shoes again, we looked around the worship area there, with its various highly ornate shrines, watching the priest and some devotees making offerings of flowers and lights at some shrines and listening to loud music played by two men, one using a slender trumpet and the other an Indian drum, until the other members of the pilgrimage came in too. We then sat on the floor to watch a presentation delivered by a young brother and sister, elaborately dressed as Lord Krishna and a goddess. They talked to each other about how worshippers could please their gods. and behave well in life. After that we were offered more refreshments, before leaving to resume our walk together.
Our next stop was St. Mary’s Church in Walthamstow Village, the oldest building in the borough. Christians have worshipped there for over 900 years, first as part of the Roman Catholic Church and from the mid 16th century to the present day, as part of the Church of England. Some members of the church told us about the history of the church building and also about the work that goes on there today, reaching out to people in the community. It has a regular worshipping community of over 200 people of all ages from across the world. It has a Christians Against Poverty Centre and St. Mary’s Cof E Primary School is nearby.
From there we moved on to Dar-ul-uloom Qadria Jilania, a Muslim Centre in East Avenue. It is a light and airy building of several storeys, with marble-like walls and beautiful carpets on each floor. After removing our shoes again, we went into the separate worship areas, one for women and one for men. One of the leaders of the mosque told us about the worship and teaching which takes place there, with prayers being said five times a day. He also told us some stories about the Prophet Mohammad and answered some of our questions about Islam. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting was due to begin the day after our visit. We were served a light lunch in a room on the ground floor of the building before we left.
At the Whipps Cross Hospital Chapel where we next went, the Chaplain told us something about his work in the hospital and how he relies on voluntary chaplains, from various faiths to help him minister to the needs of patients.
We then had a talk from a person of the Bahai faith, which originated in Iran in the middle of the 19th century. Their message is one of unity. They believe all religions come from the one God and we will all become one. By prayer and effort we get close to God. They have their own special calendar and they meet every nineteen days to pray together, usually in each other’s houses. There are Bahai Temples all over the world – the only country in which there are no Bahais is North Korea. The number of Bahais in the UK is very small - in Waltham Forest there are only a few. We listened to some Bahai prayers and songs before we walked to the Leytonstone and Wantstead Synagogue in Fillebrook Road.
There, the Mayor of Waltham Forest and his Mayoress were present along with the Rabbi and some senior members of the synagogue. The Mayor greeted us warmly and told us part of his role is to get along with people of all faiths in the borough. After that, the Rabbi answered some of our questions about Jewish festivals and some of the artefacts inside the synagogue. By then, Jane and I were quite tired and as things were running late, we decided not to go on to the last stop which would have been the Gurdwara Sikh Sangat in Francis Road, Leyton.
We had really enjoyed the whole experience, especially talking to people of other faiths as we walked along the way, asking them about their faith and why it was important to them. It also made me think what is important to me in my faith. The thing which stayed with me throughout the day was the importance of prayer in all the faiths, despite the different ways of entering into it.
This Inter Faith Walk is now an annual event, so I hope to go on it again next year. It is certainly a very interesting and enriching experience.
Videos from WalthamForest FaithsForum YouTube channel