This week we were lucky enough to meet Bishop Sarah Mullally, the newly appointed Bishop of London. She was taking a tour of Southall and its different faith institutions and we got to accompany her along with Bishop Pete Broadbent, Revd Mark Poulson, and Revd Anna Poulson.

The tour started out at the Shree Ram Mandir, a local Hindu temple. Bishop Sarah was greeted with dozens of smiling faces and many people wanting to shake her hand. As is the custom in Hindu temples, we took our shoes off before entering the shrine room. The temple exhibited intricate statues of different deities to which people make offerings and pray to.  Bishop Sarah and Revd Anna received saris and flowers as gifts, while Bishop Pete and Revd Mark got scarfs.

Next on our tour was the Central Jamia Masjid, just a few minutes’ walk away. The women of the group covered their heads with scarfs and we all removed our shoes, out of respect for the mosque. Again, Bishop Sarah received several bouquets of flowers. We were shown the large prayer room and met more members of the community. A pair of women then took the women of our group to see the women’s prayer room.

At our third stop of the tour, the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall Gurdwara, we again took off our shoes and this time everyone including the men covered their heads. Bishop Pete came prepared and had a scarf to match his purple robe! We were greeted by several members of the gurdwara who took us upstairs to see the impressive Darbar Sahib (main prayer hall). The carpet was covered with white cloth and there were three musicians playing Sikh music. As with the two previous hosts, Bishop Sarah received flowers as a gift. They were getting difficult to carry by this point!

If you’ve ever visited a gurdwara, you’ll know that it’s near impossible to leave without being offered tea and some sweets. Unfortunately, we were not able to accept this time as we had to leave for our final visit.

Our last stop was at St. John’s Church, where the community was already mingling and enjoying some samosas and pakoras. There were several groups which Bishop Sarah sat with to discuss their work. One of the people that the Bishop spoke to was our West London Coordinator, Elizabeth Fewkes who introduced her to leaders of a local project – The Listening Space.

The day ended with a performance by the Dairy Meadow School choir, and prayers from the Bishop and others. In case you thought that Bishop Sarah didn’t have enough presents yet – worry not. She was presented a photobook and sweets, as was Bishop Pete.

If this day showed us anything, it’s that all these faith groups had at least one thing in common – their love of gift giving! On a more serious note, the respect and friendliness of everyone involved was genuinely felt throughout the day. In the words of Bishop Sarah from her blog post about the tour, “Interfaith dialogue begins when people meet each other and when they are able to build mutual understanding and respect.”