On the evening of February 8th 2024, Altrincham Interfaith Group held what turned out to be one of their most interesting events. Representatives from eight faith communities each brought along religious artefacts that meant something to them personally, and explained their significance. The audience were spellbound and everyone learned something new – it was a fascinating evening.
Elinor Chohan, Chair of Altrincham Interfaith Group, started the proceedings with a brief introduction and a call for a moments prayer for peace for all those in conflict over the world. Then John Mulholland, a Christian, showed us a small reproduction of part of a fresco painted by Giotto of St Francis preaching to the birds. He described in a moving and eloquent way the circumstances whereby he obtained this, how St Francis worked tirelessly for peace, and how it impacts on his everyday life.
Then Dr Nasser Kurdy of the Islamic faith gave a most interesting presentation about the two folded pieces of white cloth which he had brought along, that are obligatory garments for men visiting the Ka’aba in Mecca. He explained all the rituals associated with the wearing of the cloths and about the Ka-aba itself and a very lucid way, with explanations as to their significance.
He was followed by Dr Poonam Kakkar, a Hindu, who delighted everyone with her talk about God Ganesha. She displayed images on the screen and explained how every part of his body eg elephant head, trunk, broken tusk, large belly, folded leg are significant as well as the four items held in his hands (an axe,piece of rope, a lotus flower and rice). She then went on to describe a Puja Thali (prayer plate) and the objects upon it – fruit, a sprinkler, a lamp, bells and a container, their meaning with the connection to 5 physical elements and our senses.
Gordon Levy, from the Jewish community, brought along a twisted candle with 6 wicks, and a spice box, used in a ritual to close the Sabbath on Friday night, called Havdalah. This was carried out in the home, together with singing songs wishing people a good week, and alleviated the sadness felt at the closing of the Sabbath.
Then Carolyn Jones, a Unitarian, presented a chalice which, with a lighted candle, is used at the beginning of the service in many Unitarian Chapels and Churches to represent the light of truth, freedom and love. She explained the origin of its use in the 15 th century and how it really came into force during World War II when it was used as the symbol of the Unitarian Service Committee which smuggled Jews and other persecuted people out of Nazi controlled France.
Danoush Youssefi, a Baha’i, brought along several items – soil in a cup, an apple and leafy branch, a torch and roses. The significance of each was explained and how they were reminders of how to live a good life, for example, “Plant not but the rose of love in the garden of your heart.”
Izak Loggenberg from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought along copies of the Book of Mormon and explained the major beliefs of the Church and the story of how the Book of Mormon came to be. He stressed how their focus was on Jesus Christ and his teaching.
Finally, Sukhbir Singh, a Sikh, talked about the importance of truth and how difficult it could be to be truthful at all times. He described the three pillars of Sikhism – to worship God, share everything you have and work hard. He then showed us the iron bangle that all Sikhs wear, which symbolises the eternal nature of God with no beginning or end and which was a constant reminder to always do good at all times.
After some questions from the audience, the evening closed with drinks and biscuits and a time for people to mingle and chat. The event was well attended and very much appreciated. We all learned a lot about many different faiths that we did not know before.
We are most grateful to St Vincent’s Church, Altrincham, for the use of their premises.