"That's wonderful ministry ... perfect," I said standing at the back of the church after worship on Aug. 12.
During the service I preached about the tragic shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., earlier that week. Six were left dead and four seriously injured when a gunman walked into their sacred space and started shooting. I wanted to tell my parishioners that the Sikh faith is founded on peace and nonviolence.
So what was perfect? Two members approached me with the idea of making a peace banner and sending it to our Sikh brothers and sisters in Oak Creek. "Maybe this will help them bring a measure of God's peace back to their community, which has been ripped apart by such horror," they said. Reaching out in such a loving, supportive way was a wonderful idea.
First, I thought about how gracious it was to want to find a way to support people of another faith tradition. It seemed like something Jesus would have done. Second, like other pastors I'm overjoyed when ministry ideas come from the people. I've found that those moments after worship are a time to keep ears open to hear the Spirit's voice speaking through others. In the global community in which we live, we need to reach out and create bonds — not only with other Christians but also other faiths. As we learned about the Sikhs' beliefs regarding peace and nonviolence we realized how much we can learn from them.
We hope this banner is the beginning of a journey to sharing deeper bonds with each other and that this is a vehicle for peace to prosper.
My congregation was impressed with the Sikh practice known as langar, which refers to the common kitchen. It's the place where food is served in their temple to all visitors for free. Only vegetarian food is offered to ensure that all people, regardless of dietary restrictions, can eat as equals. Langar is open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike regardless of birth, caste, gender or religion. They have this meal every week after the service. On the morning of the shooting, men and women were cooking this meal.
Did you hear what happened after the shooting? Temple members fed the police, reporters and anyone who had gathered. It was, and is, their sign of welcome and love and generosity of spirit. On that tragic day, they did what their religious tradition has practiced for hundreds of years: feeding and welcoming all people. Members of their faith community were lying dead on the floor of their temple, but they kept practicing their faith, offering drinks and food to those outside their walls.
I hope they hang our banner in the hall/room where they eat this common meal. And we hope to take a trip there and eat a common meal together as we share God's peace in person.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers