Friendship blossoms for Sikhs, Mennonites in North Kildonan

Mary Anne Isaak, Pastor at River East, leads a dedication prayer for the garden in 2012.

It started with a garden, but it is blossoming into a deep friendship between Sikh and Mennonite congregations in North Kildonan.

In 2010 River East Mennonite Brethren Church and Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara decided they should get to know each other better–and that the best way to do that was to plant a garden on the Northeast Pioneers Parkway.

Members from the two groups planted the garden last year; intended to benefit the whole community, it features an array of native Manitoba flowers, grasses, and shrubs. On August 20 they received a boost when the provincial government provided funds for a bench and commemorative plaques in the garden, located at the corner of McLeod Ave. and Rothesay St.

“Because these two communities are quite dominant in this area in terms of population, it’s important that we know something about one another,” says Sarah Jane Schmidt, a member of River East’s pastoral team. “Ignorance is usually the basis of fear, and so, by gaining awareness and understanding, you eliminate fear.”

Added Guru Nanak member Gurpreet Brar: “It’s been really great to make a contribution to the broader community. Even though Guru Nanak and River East are the two groups who collaborated to create this, the broader community will hopefully benefit in terms of the greenway becoming more beautified.”

The garden was dedicated in August, 2012 when over 100 people from the two groups joined together for the official sod-breaking for the garden. Following the ceremony, which featured blessings and prayers from leaders from River East and the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, the crowd celebrated with a meal of traditional Mennonite and Indian foods — such as platz and samosas.

But the collaboration didn’t stop there; members from River East have gone to the Gurdwara for a service and a meal and members from the Gurdwara went to River East to talk about the Sikh faith.

“Since the beginning of our inter-faith collaboration, we have worked together hand-in-hand,” said Brar, adding the project has been an opportunity to “explore values we share while respecting differences.”

Sartaj Dhillon (left) of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara plants flowers with Neoma Jantz of River East Mennonite Brethren Church in the community garden sponsored by the two congregations. The garden, which is intended to beautify the neighbourhood and grow friendships between the two groups, features an array of native Manitoba flowers, grasses, and shrubs.

Sikhs and Mennonites Differences and Similarities

There are many differences between Sikhs and Mennonites, but also some similarities.

For starters, Sikhism, with 26 million members, is the fourth-largest religion in the world, while Mennonites are a tiny part of Christianity, with only about 1.6 million members worldwide.

Sikhs originated in India, while Mennonites came from Europe.

Sikhs use Punjabi in their worship services, while English is used at almost all Mennonite churches in Canada.

Sikhism is considered a minority religion in Canada, and many Sikhs are easily spotted by their unique dress, including wearing turbans and beards for many of the men. Mennonites, on the other hand, are part of mainstream society.

Theologically, Sikhs don’t believe in hell, and they believe in reincarnation — something that differs from traditional Mennonite beliefs. Both groups are monotheistic, however.

When it comes to war, Mennonites, in the main, are pacifist, while Sikhs have a noble warrior tradition.

Those are the differences; there are also similarities. Both faiths originated about the same time — Sikhs in the 15th century; Mennonites in the 16th. Both were breakaways from the dominant religions of the time, with Sikhs diverging from Hinduism and Islam and Mennonites from Roman Catholics and Lutherans. Both groups suffered opposition and persecution as a result.

For both groups, faith is meant to be taken very seriously. The word Sikh means disciple, while discipleship is an important part of Mennonite belief and practice.

For both groups, equality is important. Mennonites call it the “priesthood of all believers,” while Sikhs preach against caste and class — the reason they eat seated on the floor is to show that no one is better than another.

Both groups revere their scriptures; the Sikhs the Adi Granth and the Mennonites the Bible. And both like to sing — the Sikh scriptures contain more than 6,000 hymns and Mennonites are well-known for their musicianship and singing.

Both groups also promote the value of hard work and sharing to help others.

Their immigrant experiences also show some similarities. Mennonites who came to Manitoba from other countries faced challenges adapting to Canadian life — they were culturally distinct, insular and spoke German in worship and at home. Sikhs, many of whom have arrived more recently, can also find it difficult to adapt to life in this country.

Mennonites also faced suspicion during the Second World War, when their loyalty was questioned due to their Germanic origin and the unwillingness of many Mennonite men to join the military. Sikhs found themselves under suspicion more recently by those who mistook them for terrorists following 9/11.

And now members of these two groups in Winnipeg are planting a garden, eating together, getting to know each other, and beautifying their neighbourhood.

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TOWARD A COMPASSIONATE WINNIPEG

Recently, a delegation from Winnipeg traveled to Louisville, Kentucky — in November 2012 and again in May 2013 — to learn how city leaders there began Compassionate Louisville. From schools to government, healthcare to policing, Louisville is proving that a lasting, positive impact is created when compassion informs the day-to-day life of a city.

Community News Commons encourages anyone to imagine what Winnipeg could become if we followed the lead of Louisville and made compassion an integral part of our community life.

Click on the links below to read other CNC articles on creating a compassionate Winnipeg:

Friendship blossoms for Sikhs, Mennonites in North Kildonan
Knowing more about others creates greater compassion
Compassion helps take back the streets
Golden Rule unites world religions
The hard work of living a compassionate life
Winnipeg encouraged to adopt Golden Rule
Delegation seeks compassion, will hear Dalai Lama speak
Winnipeg delegation looks to compassionate Louisville
Forum on compassion asks: Does Winnipeg care?
Is Winnipeg a compassionate city?

You can also type ‘compassion’ into the search bar at the top of this page for more stories on this subject.