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Interfaith relationships take root on greenway

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“Much of the strife in the world cuts along religious lines,” says pastor Sara Jane Schmidt of River East MB Church (REMB), Winnipeg. “Why can’t we be a beacon modelling intercultural collaboration and hope that has a ripple effect?”

The avid gardener partnered with Gurpreet Brar, a member of a Sikh temple a half-block up the street, to lead the two worshipping communities in planning and planting a native prairie garden along a barren public greenway.

Schmidt had been percolating the idea about a garden for some time and already had city approval for the church to do so under the Adopt a Park program; fellow pastor Mary Anne Isaak suggested collaborating with the neighbouring religious community. “After English, Punjabi is one of the most common languages in the neighbourhood around our church,” says Isaak. “Co-operating with the Sikh community to make our neighbourhood a more beautiful environment is a great way to begin a relationship.”

The executive committee of Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara (temple) “enthusiastically embraced the idea and gave the green light to move forward,” says Brar. “We view this initiative as a great opportunity to not only help beautify the Northeast Pioneers Greenway, but also to further understanding and appreciation between both faith groups.”

On Aug. 2, some 120 people from the MB and Sikh congregations – and from the wider community and secular media – attended the sod-breaking ceremony and prayers offered by leaders of both churches. Afterward, members of the long-established Mennonite church interacted with those from the newer-immigrant Sikh gurdwara over Indian samosas and Mennonite platz in the basement of REMB, concluding the first official meeting of the two groups.

“We participate with the Sikhs boldly because of our identity as Christ-followers,” says Isaak, describing the growing relationship between the communities as bridge-building – effective when well-anchored on each side. “When we continue to name Jesus as the one we follow, while working together for good with others who believe differently, we live out the gospel in powerful ways.”

Planting the garden is only the beginning; it will require watering and upkeep, tasks that will be shared by the two communities. “If two people are working on the garden, one should be from each community,” Schmidt says. “Our view is to the long term.”

After the ground-breaking, REMB members suggested holding a seminar on Sikh religion and history during adult Christian education on Sunday morning, and having culinary exchanges.

“Bridges between faith communities are built as we speak clearly and with conviction about what we believe, and as we listen with respect to what the other believes,” Isaak says. Schmidt intends to keep working on this “bridge,” but, “maybe the ball for the next initiative is in their court.”

—Karla Braun

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