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Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Interfaith Walk of Friendship

I've never had a good idea of my own, but I've nicked a few in my time. My new home of Sunderland seems to be a place crying out for a few more good ideas, especially around interfaith relationships, so it felt right to pinch a beautiful one from my old city of Bradford - a simple idea, a walk of friendship.

The proposed building of a Mosque in Sunderland has caused a ridiculous amount of concern here, and the far right have used it as an excuse to cause trouble around the region. Their monthly protests in Millhill, opposite the site of the new mosque, have increased racial and faith tensions in the city. So I have began to seek out those who are wanting to create some positive stories of interfaith harmony and respect, and to build up a group of people committed to strong relationships between different communities.

So here was the idea - a walk from the Minster, to a Buddhist Temple, to a Gurdwara, to a Methodist Church, then on to the only official Mosque (Masjid) in the city. This would mean that people would get a chance to visit places of worship they would not normally have a chance to see, step over the threshold into unknown territory, and during the walk, have a chance to meet others who share their interest in building up the common good.

Just over 40 people took part at different stages of the walk. Most people had never even realised that there was a Buddhist Temple in the city, and the Burmese monk, Lee, welcomed us warmly. At the Gurdwara, there was an excellent talk about the Sikh tradition and wonderful music and food. The Methodists showed off the magnificent Victorian building and stained glass at Burn Park Church, and finally we enjoyed the peace of the simple mosque on Chester Road.

At each location, we stopped for a minute to pray in silence for world peace. Here is the hope; that this is the first of many such events, drawing good people together to share our hopes for a more tolerant and respectful future. The English Defence League want to tell a different story about Sunderland, one of hate for our neighbours. But our walk of faith takes us down a more beautiful route, one of love and friendship for those who may at first appear different to us. On closer inspection, we discover that those who at first looked strange to us, are in fact are our brothers and sisters.

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