Saturday, February 28, 2009

Many forms of worship in Richmond, B.C.

I'm sure most of you who have been to Europe have done some part of the "famous old churches" circuit. Westminster Abbey? Been there. Notre-Dame? Seen it. Lovely as they are, once you've seen 10 of them, they all start to blur together a bit.

Another problem with some of Europe's historic churches is that they seem more like museums than places of worship. You get the sense that much of the life bled out of them centuries ago.

Not so in the temples, mosques and gurdwaras of Richmond, British Columbia, a booming Vancouver suburb. Since 60 per cent of the city's residents come from Asia, Richmond is awash in places of worship of every description. Many of these buildings--some quite grandiose--are far from museums. And, best of all, many are open to the public. On a recent trip to Richmond, I visited four of them with a group of other writers.

The most sedate of the four structures was the first stop, the Richmond Jamia Mosque. Signs all over the very plain building urge worshippers to turn off their cell phones, control their children and whisper. Quiet is clearly a high priority--not a bad idea at all in these noisy times.

There are also many signs urging mosque members not to bring old clothes and Korans and leave them at the mosque. I'm still trying to figure out the reason behind those notices. Is donating articles to mosques a Muslim custom? If anyone knows, please leave a comment below.

The next building on the agenda was the exuberant Nanaksar Gurdwara Gursikh Temple, a giant wedding cake of a place complete with an elephant statue out front.

Inside the richly adorned main hall, at least one worshipper reads from Sikhism's most holy book around the clock.

This stop included a tasty vegetarian lunch in the gurdwara's cavernous cafeteria, which serves food to any and all who come by (I met a dreadlocked man who stops by a couple of times a week just for the warm meal and the company).

The third and fourth stops were both enormous Buddhist temples. The highlights of our visit to the International Buddhist Temple--at least for me--were the chance to meditate quietly in the main Worship Hall and to stroll quietly through the magnificent courtyard.

And at the Lingyen Mountain Temple, stunning gardens were a restful way to end a whirlwind tour--a tour that gave me the most superficial of tastes, I know, of three rich traditions.

If you'd like to follow in my footsteps, a guide to Richmond's places of worship--Faith Communities, by Jon Henderson--is available from the Richmond Archives for C$18.

And if you're headed to Asia, check out this interesting guide to the temples of Macau.

Disclosure: My trip was partially subsidized by Tourism Richmond.


Lori Henry said...

I was so disapointed for not joining you guys on this one. What a great way to see Richmond!

Laura Byrne Paquet said...

It WAS a fun trip. But all of the places were so welcoming--you could easily drop in on some of them on a weekend from Vancouver. Let me know if you do!