Servants Southall: An Interfaith Diwali Celebration

Southall, West London: ‘Little India’, where the curry spices and vibrant colours of the Punjab greet you as you exit the train. Sikh gurdwaras, Christian churches, Islamic mosques and Hindu temples rub shoulders with each other. This is Southall – wild, wacky, wonderful.

Peacemeal Common Ground Servants SouthallAnd on the small council estate of Havelock on this Thursday evening, people are scurrying through the cold and rain to No.4, carrying food and perhaps a bag of clothes for a neighbour whose kids are small.

People from all parts of the world arrive at this small, mid-terrace house. Shoes are left by the door, hugs are given, comments on the weather are exchanged.

If it’s around 6:30, everyone goes into the lounge for a time of stillness and prayer. We light a candle, say a prayer together, and begin to talk to God about ourselves, our families, the neighbourhood. We ask for peace, for health, we give thanks. People pray silently or aloud, in English or Punjabi – sometimes Amar* prays that his football team will win the upcoming match!

We then read a prayer of blessing together and soon the chef du jour is bringing the food through from the kitchen. The chef explains what is on the potluck menu tonight, what is ‘veg’ and ‘non-veg’, a prayer is said in English and aunti Mandeep prays in Punjabi.

The hum of conversation is joined by the clatter of cutlery as we squish together on chairs and on the floor. If you can make your way around the lounge, you might hear Elaine telling Balbir about some family issues; or Amanpal and Sarah debating when to plant beans in the community garden.

Conversations continue as people help to clear the table and wash the dishes. Two little girls, Noor and Shashi, write ‘coffee, tea, rooibos, mint’ on a piece of paper, and make the rounds asking people what they want. The teenagers help to make and serve the hot drinks.

Peacemeal-Diwali-celebration-interfaith-5Any number of things might happen now – storytelling with dramatic acting, packing small gift bags for people on the street, relaxed chatting – but tonight we’re celebrating Diwali, the Hindu / Sikh festival of light.

We sit on the floor around small, clay oil lamps as we discuss what and who gives us light. We reflect on how we can be lights in our world, and our colouring sheets come alive with colours, ideas, hopes…

And now it’s time to go; dishes are collected from the kitchen, slippers are returned, farewells are shouted… The hosts collapse on the sofa for a few minutes to unwind and recap: ‘Did you see Jasbeer’s latest magic trick?’, ‘Kirit is worried about his doctor’s appointment.’

APeacemeal interfaith meal celebrationnother community night is over. But this is only one of many such gatherings of this community: neighbours from different backgrounds, countries and faiths who love and pray for each other, eat, cry, and laugh together – we are family!

And as we share life we are encouraged and challenged, as we look for and become lights of hope and peace in our neighbourhood.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

About Servants Southall

Working mostly in Asian slums, Servants’ teams move into disadvantaged neighbourhoods to build relationships and see Jesus’ love transform communities. The story above is a snapshot of the community brought together by the team in Southall.

For more information, visit the Servants website.

Story and photographs courtesy of Heather Graber.

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