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At the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I represented Sewa Day at a multi faith reception to mark the launch of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The reception was held at Lambeth Palace and the chief guests were the Queen and Prince Philip themselves. Naturally, for a week ahead of the reception, I had been practicing my regal bow – curtsey – triple twist back flip combo (!) in anticipation of meeting the royal couple. Luckily (for both my own well-being and for those around me) such a grand gesture was not required and a gentle nod and a simple “good morning Ma’am” was sufficient protocol for the day.
The event itself was split into two parts. First, each faith group presented a sacred object to the royal couple. The second part consisted of speeches by the Queen and Dr. Williams followed by a session of mingling with faith/community representatives. Objects that were presented to Her Majesty included, amongst others, the original Ampulla and Spoon used during her own Coronation ceremony sixty years ago. The Queen took great interest in all the presentations and spent time with the group leaders discussing the significance and meaning of the objects put before her. Our delegation, led by Bharti Tailor of the Hindu Forum of Britain, presented the Queen with a large Aum made out of fresh flowers. The Queen then delivered what I felt was a brave and enlightened address regarding the role of faith in modern British society, very much reflective of the progressive mind-set of the current monarchy. I’m no theologian or an expert on matters of faith but I believe the following extracts capture the main thrust of her speech in a nutshell and these words certainly resonated with me:
“This gathering is a reminder of how much we owe the nine major religious traditions represented here. They are sources of a rich cultural heritage and have given rise to beautiful sacred objects and holy texts, as we have seen today…..Here at Lambeth Palace we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
So, if I understood “Ma’am” correctly she suggests that, in the religiously pluralistic UK of today, the Church has a central caretaker responsibility to promote and protect the practice all faiths – not to be the monopoly faith itself. This is how it justifies its continued existence and relevance as the country’s core religion. Quite a remarkable statement. She recognises that it is of the utmost importance that the many faiths that been “imported” into Britain during her reign must a) all flourish and b) learn to work together. Therein lies the benefit for the nation .
It should be evident from the above that meeting the Queen was significant for me on a personal level – as it would be for most people I guess. It was also important, I feel, from the point of view of my involvement with Sewa Day. As per my blog piece “On Her Majesty’s Sewa Service” (dated 25 January 2012), I believe that the Queen embodies the ethos of sewa. She has tirelessly served the nation for sixty years. Patron to over 600 charities, she is a consummate professional, a trooper. To anyone involved in volunteering, she is a standard bearer and an inspiration. So we feel honoured that Sewa Day has been invited to officially take part in the Jubilee celebrations via the UK governments “A Year of Service” (AYOS) programme. It’s an opportunity to show our appreciation. On the flip side, it’s heartening to be recognised at the highest level for the important role we are playing in promoting social cohesion and community spirit.
Talking of people who inspire us, let’s head over to Croydon Town Hall where we held a felicitation ceremony last week to thank the local council. Last year, hundreds if not thousands of folks across Croydon took part in Sewa Day. They came out in their droves to improve their parks, conservation areas, estates and streets. This was a huge testament to the strength and resilience of local community mindedness, especially following the unsavoury events of last summer. Bravo, residents of Croydon. What was also special about Croydon’s participation last year was the fact that Croydon Council officially endorsed Sewa Day. Much of Sewa Day’s success in the borough last year was due to the fact that the council had been promoting the initiative for months ahead of the day. On the back of this, we are now liaising with at least four other councils who are looking to embrace Sewa Day as an official volunteering day. So, a huge thanks to Croydon Council for believing in the positive power of Sewa Day and for providing the inspiration to others to follow your lead. In particular we would like to thank Jon Rouse (Chief Executive of the Council), Councillor Vidhi Mohan (Cabinet Member for the Big Society) and MP Gavin Barwell for their tremendous efforts and foresight. Incidentally, I joined Gavin on Sewa Day last year for a clean-up of an estate in Addington and was gob-smacked at the arsenal of cleaning equipment in the boot of his car. Basically, if you are ever planning your own neighbourhood clean-up and need to borrow spades, brooms or rakes, Gavin’s your man! Thanks also go out to Kavit Shah and Shivani Chheda (two young Croydon based volunteers) for speaking so eloquently about their experiences of Sewa Day 2011.
Lastly, the official AYOS launch event takes place next week. We’ll post further details on that in the next few days. That’ll start the clock ticking towards October 7 – Sewa Day 2012. If you’re the Sewa Day co-ordinator for your community, you’d better get your skates on – only 227 days to go. It’ll fly by in a flash!
Arup K. Ganguly
Chairman – Sewa Day