Neighboring Sikh & Christian Congregations Pursue Interfaith alliance

Baltimore,Md,USA:Though they share a neighborhood (and have for years) members of Grace Place Church and the Baltimore Sikh Society shared little else — until recently. Now, thanks to the efforts of leaders at both the church and the temple, a connection has been formed between the two faiths. A non-traditional Christian church, Grace Place opened at the site of the former Woolford Memorial Baptist Church on Delvale Road in 2008.

Their neighbors across the parking lot are the Baltimore Sikh Society, which opened on Rita Road in November of 2002.
According to Baltimore Sikh Society member Malkiat S. Bassi, the Sikh temple chose the Rita Road location as it was “the most convenient location for all the Sikh members around the Baltimore area to come together and pray.”

As Bassi noted last week, there are currently about 175 Sikh residents in Dundalk. Prior to their reconnection this past summer, relations between Grace Place and the Baltimore Sikh Society were icy at best. As Grace Place pastor Troy A. McDaniel noted in an e-mail to The Eagle last week, “The interaction between the Temple and the previous church organizations in this building were not good.” He continued, “The misunderstanding led to events that created bad feelings between the two organizations and the misunderstandings weren’t necessarily the Temple’s fault.”

Upon arriving as Grace Place’s new pastor last January, McDaniel made it his goal to repair the damaged relationship between his church and the Sikh temple across the lot. Finally, after six months at his new post, McDaniel got the chance to speak with the temple [granthi]. ”The connection happened late at night, outside, between me and the temple [granthi] which led to our current relationship.”

Upon reconnecting, leaders at both the church and the temple realized that misinformation was behind much of the animosity between the two groups.

As McDaniel explained of his congregation, “I believe that our people didn’t fully understand the Sikh’s motives and beliefs. Some equated them to radical Islam. This turned out to be the furthest from the truth.” Indeed, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs have faced increased persecution — primarily from those who mistake them for [their identity].

Just last August, a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. left six worshippers dead and three wounded in what was apparently an attack based on religion. Shooter Wade Page, reportedly a white supremacist, had ties to a Neo-Nazi organization and spoke frequently to friends about an “impending racial holy war.”

As McDaniel’s congregation would come to find out, however, Sikhism and Islam are two very different faiths.
Founded in the Punjab region of south Asia in the 15th century, Sikhism is a monotheistic religion marked by a belief in equality and the brotherhood of man and One Supreme God (Ik Onkar). Teaching followers that all humanity is one, Sikhism seeks to connect with members of various faiths all over the world.
Male adherents of Sikhism usually have long hair and a beard, uncut as a symbol of repect for God’s creation, and wear a turban. Female members, likewise also leave their hair uncut and wear a turban.

For Malkiat Bassi and his fellow Baltimore Sikh Society members, the prospect of connecting with another faith drew them to seek a relationship with Grace Place. In an email to The Eagle, Bassi noted, “The reason we wanted to connect with Grace Place was to bring people of different faiths together. We wanted to show that people of different faiths can live and work together, and be united for the good.”

So far, Grace Place and the Baltimore Sikh Society have held a number of events designed to unite the two different groups. In August, members of Grace Place visited the Sikh temple. During the visit, members of the temple shared information about their faith ­ — as well as refreshments ­— with their new friends. Following the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month, the Baltimore Sikh Society again reached out to Grace Place. During an interfaith prayer service on Christmas Eve, members of both the temple and the church came together to share prayers for victims of the tragedy. During the service, the temple priest offered prayers in his native langauge. Translated by an interpreter, the priest’s message was one of peace and interfaith cooperation in the face of tragedy.

Following these remarks, Grace Place pastor McDaniel read a passage from the Gospel before sharing a message of peace and truth with the assembled group. This month Grace Place will return the favor, hosting a dinner for the Sikh temple priest and trustees of the Temple Society. For both groups, the newfound connection between Grace Place and the Baltimore Sikh Society is one that will continue to be nourished.

“[We] intend to make this an ongoing effort to serve the Sikh believers as Jesus came to serve the world and set the mark for the Christian Church’s service in the world. McDaniel noted, adding, “This is our duty to our neighbors and we intend to keep pushing out past our immediate neighbors into the neighborhoods of Dundalk. Imagine what kind of society we would live in if this attitude of love and service spread throughout Dundalk and Southeast Baltimore.”

As the interfaith relationship between the groups continues to blossom, McDaniel has already seen a profound change in both his congregation and members of the Sikh temple.

“The interaction with our new friends has opened up the hearts and minds of our congregation as well as the Sikh community,” McDaniel explained, adding, “The Sikh Temple worshipers are no longer seen as a potential threat to our people, but a peaceful people who want to fellowship with their neighbors, us.”


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