An evening of Sikh Entertainment
and Learning

Redbridge Teachers Centre Wednesday 28 April 1999

Report by Anne Krisman

There is nothing I like better than an event, and the evening of Sikh entertainment and learning was certainly that. Who could forget the stirring exhibition of ghatka - Sikh martial arts - or the spirituality of the dhati jatha devotional singer? The evening was a triumph of co-operation between Redbridge Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE), the North East London Religious Education Centre (NELREC) and the Redbridge Sikh community. Together we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa in real Punjabi style.

After visiting the NELREC exhibition of resources, we were treated to some delicious food from the Sikh communal kitchen (langar). We then made our way to the hall, where we heard some kirtan (devotional songs) with harmonium and tabla, from students from the Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College. Amritpal Johal, a student from Seven Kings High School, told the Baisakhi story with great conviction.

A lion skin and a collection of swords and weapons were brought onto the stage for the demonstration of ghatka. The audience gasped as the exponents of Sikh martial arts spun with their swords. The pounding of the dhol drum added to the drama. A group of volunteers were asked to kneel, holding a piece of banana in the palm of their hands. Bill Gent was one of the brave men. A blind-folded warrior swirled around and cut the banana in two with his sword. The audience was on its feet by this point. The respect that the ghatka exponents showed to the weapons, and their prayers and reflection before each manoevre, showed the spirituality in their craft. We were amazed by the commitment of the young children involved, too.

Gurinder Singh Sacha, a former member of Redbridge SACRE, explained the 5Ks and showed us how a turban was put on, using Bill Gent as a demonstration model! We heard some beautiful dhati jatha devotional singing and the evening ended with a panel of Sikhs answering the audience's questions, and a timely speech from Harmander Singh. Mentioning the recent racist bomb outrages, he stated that Sikhs have been in the Redbridge community for many generations, and are here to stay. The audience applause affirmed his words.

It was a wonderful evening, so thanks to all who organised it, and to Bill Gent for compering with such panache.

(For more details on Sikhism see this excellent site: The Sikhism Home Page)

Churchfields Lecture 1999
'What they never told you about Spiritual Development'
by Terence Copley, 9th June 1999

(the full text of the lecture can be found here)

Report by Anne Krisman

Terence Copley is a speaker who never fails to challenge and to delight, and he was the wise choice of the governors of Churchfields Infants and Junior school for their first annual lecture. We warmed to the humour and perceptiveness of Terence Copley at our last SACRE lecture, and it was a pleasure to see him back in Redbridge. St Mary's Church in South Woodford was a fittingly spiritual venue for his talk.

He is one of only three professors in Religious Education, and his most recent research at the University of Exeter is on teaching the Bible in schools. His latest book, to be published later in the year, is on spiritual development in the state school.

'What They Never Told You About Spiritual Development' was a lecture that pulled no punches. Terence Copley was critical of the British approach to religion, which seemed a minority interest compared to the all-consuming national desire to purchase at shopping centres. This ideology is reflected in the 'me culture', where individuals are encouraged to feel that the world revolves around them, and where religious issues seem irrelevant. The national media contribute to a negative portrayal of religion.

He quoted from different government documents on spiritual, moral, social and cultural education (SMSC) which painfully tried to pin down what spirituality was. All the lofty statements failed to reflect the spirituality within the world faiths, and to explore popular spirituality, such as public responses to Diana's death. He concluded with a critique of our present education system; how can spirituality flourish within a school system where academic results are all important? Knowledge, he reminded us, does not necessarily produce wisdom or chesed - the Jewish word for 'loving kindness'.

Thanks to Churchfields Infants and Junior schools for giving us the opportunity to hear Terence Copley again. He spoke of 'life-sustaining experiences' - hearing such a speaker touches the heart and makes you look afresh at the world. If that's not spirituality, what is?

(the full text of the lecture can be found here)

Redbridge Council of Faiths
Multi-Faith Pilgrimage

Sunday 4th July 1999

Report by Anne Krisman

A group of sixty of us gathered at Brahma Kumaris in Ilford for what proved to be a fascinating day out. These pilgrimages are more than a Cook's tour of religious buildings, you always learn from the people you meet and there are surprises and delights on the way.

Off we moved to Ilford Federation synagogue, where the first sight of the scrolls in the ark made everyone gasp. Me too - somehow being part of an inter-faith group like this makes you cherish what you usually take for granted. Our guide from the synagogue, a teacher in a local Jewish school, answered questions honestly, including one about relationships between Jews and Muslims. He reminded everyone that these were brother religions, linked through the two sons of Abraham.

Soon we reached the golden triangle of Ilford, otherwise known as Albert Road. First stop was St. Alban's Church, where the distinctive smell of incense hit us. The Sunday Communion service had just finished and we arrived just in time for tea. A few of us were given a quick tour of the Lady Chapel by some keen parishioners. An authoritative speaker answered all the audience's questions and managed to explain church history and the different denominations in a nutshell.

A few steps along to Ilford Islamic Centre, where Mr. Ali explained the Muslim way of worship with his usual warmth. The mosque is welcoming and open; a very special resource. Then quickly around the corner to Ilford Hindu Centre, where we sat patiently and listened to a former headmaster read a speech about the nature of suffering in society.

Clutching our pieces of melon (we were kept well fed and watered during the day), we made our way to our final point - the Sikh temple in Seven Kings, the Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha. Greeting me at the door was one of my Sikh pupils, whose energy always has to be contained in school. However, in the Gurdwara, he was in his element, dashing around helping in the langar (communal kitchen) sprinkling water as the Guru Granth Sahib was carried in, and joining in with the hymn singing. His involvement spoke powerfully of the positive role of religion and culture in the lives of many special needs pupils.

As we sat and shared the delicious communal meal, we reflected on our day. The speaker from St. Albans Church earlier that day had spoken of the church's vision of "unity, not conformity". Perhaps that would serve too as our motto for our multi-faith pilgrimage.

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