One of the great things about university is the endless opportunity to experience, learn, and engage with new perspectives and worldviews. Last Saturday I went on a Multi-Faith Centre hosted event, a Bus Tour of Houses of Worship in Toronto and the GTA. I saw a poster for it at Hart House a week ago. The tour visited a Sikh Gurdwara, an Islamic Mosque, and a Christian Presbyterian Church.
The bus tour left from Hart House at 10 am. Everyone had to register before hand, and as we boarded the bus, the organizer checked our names from the list. We were given name tags and encouraged to speak with the people sitting in front and behind us. The bus was packed.
I talked with an exchange student from Paris, France, who had been a little undecided whether to come to Canada or the United States for her term abroad, but she said she was enjoying her decision very much. She registered for the bus tour because it allowed her to explore Toronto and Canada in a safe and comfortable way and experience the variety of communities and cultures that live here.
We arrived at the Sikh Gurdwara first. The building reminded me of a library mixed with a gymnasium. It was very quiet and clean, and we had to remove our shoes and don shawls to cover our heads. Our Sikh guides, a young woman and an older man, gave us a tour of the different prayer rooms, and eventually led us to the cafeteria where they were offering lungar, a free meal to which all are welcome. On the floor, we ate vegetarian curry and naan bread and vegetables tossed in a special batter. It was delicious! The Sikh religion believes in inclusivity, equality, and good will to all of humanity.
We got back on the bus and drove a short ways and arrived at the Islamic Mosque. Welcomed by a very cheerful and entertaining volunteer, we discovered that the building was also a community outreach centre, a registered private school, and a place of worship. Inside the prayer room, I was surprised by the lack of symbols and images. The room was plain and undecorated. Our host explained that individual prayer is integral to Islam, and so they don’t have intermediary symbols and signs. The religion is largely about how to be a good person.
Our final destination was the Christian Presbyterian Church. I went to church when I was younger, and I recognized the smell of old wood, the dim light of stain glass windows, the Bibles on the backs of the pews. But I know very little about Christianity. For instance, I thought the Gospel was a song. Nope. The Church employee cleared that up, explaining that the Gospel is the triumph over evil, and that Church is the celebration of the Gospel. She also told us that the church is involved with local Toronto charities, offering Out of the Cold and ESL programs.
All in all, the Bus Tour of Houses of Worship brought to my attention the vastness of my own ignorance. But in a good way. I realized that the opportunity for understanding, and the potential to explore and learn is open to me, and to every student, here at U of T. We have such an unbelievably magnificent invitation to open our eyes and see the world beyond our own life-styles, beliefs, and understandings. It was a great day. Plus I got a free lunch!
‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond.