The third annual Watford Interfaith Pilgrimage took place on Sunday 20th November 2011 and stopped at five local places of worship.
As I turned the corner I was confronted by a big red fire engine (‘pump’ I was told is the correct term) outside the Synagogue where our third Annual WIFA (Watford Inter-Faith Association) Pilgrimage was to begin. My first reaction was naturally one of concern that there was a fire at the Synagogue but I was soon to learn of a much happier reason for its presence. We were to be joined on our pilgrimage by members of Green Watch but as they were still on standby they had to bring their pump with them.
Sunday was Mitzvah day in the central Watford Synagogue and pilgrims of most of the nine faith groups were welcomed into the Synagogue with refreshments including tea, coffee and Kosher ‘Danish’ pastries. Mitzvah is a day when the Jewish people try particularly to do a good turn to someone - the word itself speaks of connection and in his welcoming address the rabbi spoke eloquently of the connections between us. He outlined the commonality of our moral behaviour codes - for him clearly identified with the Noahic covenant which he briefly summarised. He also quoted a fellow rabbi who had written that in interfaith “our differences are the hooks which hold us together”.
Our next stop was at the Watford Jamia Mosque where after a welcome we heard the call to the mid afternoon prayer (one of five such prayers of the day) and observed the prayer, before once again being offered hospitality prior to our moving on the youngest Church building in our town.
The community can trace its roots back over a long time in the town but last year, to the very day, the keys of the new Church building were handed over. Watford Community Church, associated with the Assemblies of God, in its one year old building, is flourishing and already has plans for an extension to be built. They had the wisdom to design the building initially so that the extension would be straightforward, the only small problem in the way is their existing mortgage of £700,000 (the building cost around £1.8 million) and the need for a further coffee morning (or two) to raise another £1 million.
Next it was on to Holy Rood, the very fine grade 1 listed building designed by John Francis Bentley in a neo gothic style, built as the gift of one man in gratitude for the gift of faith. It is reputed to have cost him £33,000 in 1895 - upgraded to today's prices based on average earnings some £16 million - or more cautiously using the Retail Price Index £3 million. An outline of the progress made towards true and active interfaith traced the development from the World Parliament of Faith of 1893 - co-incidentally almost exactly the date of the commencement of Holy Rood. We were introduced to some of the highlights of the building and saw how the design of the building is focussed on helping people to be aware of the magnificence of God and through that helping them to pray.
Our last stop was at the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara where we were introduced to the Guru - not a person but a collection of sacred writings too highly revered to be described as a book. In the Sikh temple we took off our shoes and covered our heads in reverence. The Sikhs touch their heads to the floor when they come into the presence of the Guru, as a sign of emptying themselves before coming to prayer. We learned about the 5 ‘K’s and the Sikh commitment to love and peace. We concluded with traditional Sikh hospitality: a delicious meal of curry, rice, salad, yoghurt and fruit, and honours being awarded to the organisers of our pilgrimage.
This concluded our pilgrimage of five places of worship in the Hertfordshire town of Watford. All in all around 100 people took part in all or some of the pilgrimage and we made many new friends all of whom share in belief, joined together by the hooks the rabbi spoke of at the beginning of our pilgrimage, and we look forward to building on these new friendships as we meet each other in and around our town of Watford.
If there is not an Interfaith pilgrimage in your area and you would like to join us next year keep an eye on our website to get the details. We look forward to seeing you.
Deacon Rev. Neville Dyckhoff