Walkers step out to support Merton Faith in Action Homeless Project

The Merton Interfaith Walk – Saturday 13th April 2024

A report by guide Richard Smart

Well, it was one of those beautiful April days when we set out on our Interfaith walk across Wimbledon.  Gathering at the station we were delighted at the growing numbers as one hundred walkers joined us for the 22,000 steps (approximately ten miles) connecting a variety of faith sites across the borough.

The walk jointly organised by PC Suzanne D’Cruze (Faith Engagement Officer) and Richard Smart a local Blue Badge guide and member of Wimbledon Salvation Army. This walk is now named the Wakefield Wimbledon Walk after the late Rev Andrew Wakefield who was well known for his interfaith work and enthusiasm for the Merton Homeless Project – Faith in Action. His walk celebrated the Summer Olympics (2012), so this was an opportunity to refresh the walk and raise some necessary funds for Merton Faith in Action.

The walkers included two local Councillors ;  the famous prolific walker Revd John Merrill ordained multi-faith minister; Britain’s most prolific walker and guidebook writer. Supported by two community PCs we headed of up the tube to Southfields walking to our first stop the Fazl London  Mosque. Met by Usman Butt the Regional Missionary who guided us around the mosque. The mosque is one of the oldest in the country, a grade 2 listed building opened in 1926. The construction and the purchase of the land financed by the donations of Ahmadi Muslim women in Qadian, Punjab, British India, with support from the British Muslim convert Khalid Sheldrake. The mosque is a blend of classic Mughal architecture and British contemporary styles. The walkers asked many questions which Usman fielded with great skill.

We however had to leave to keep to our schedule walking again through Southfields and eventually up Bathgate Road up Queensmere Road to The Wimbledon Synagogue. Here met by the Rabbi Adrian Schell who with his colleague explained the Jewish faith and community. To great excitement they revealed the rolls of the Torah. These sacred texts being highly prized and respected. We felt particularly welcomed and given refreshments with many of our questions being answered. Extraordinary our number of walkers increased as people caught us up on the walk.

Continuing our walk down Parkside we had a glorious surprise visiting The Apostolic Nunciature to Great Britain thanks to  Fr Andrew Coy. Who invited us into what is colloquially known as the ‘Pope’s house in London.’ Pope John Paul II created the Nunciature to Great Britain in 1982. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI stayed at the house during visits to the United Kingdom. The house has a beautiful garden and chapel at which the Pope had prayed.

Well, if that was a treat walking onto Calonne Road we arrived at The Buddhapadipa Temple a Thai Buddhist temple under Royal patronage. The walkers were greeted by the Abbott Ajahn and a monk who referred to himself as Bob. The murals inside the ordination hall were painted by thirty Thai artists over an eight-year period. They employed a contemporary style with visual impact, this was unorthodox for Buddhist imagery; it is now considered a pivotal moment in the development of the neo-traditional style of Thai art. The gardens were peaceful and tranquil.

The walk continued with an uphill stretch along Burghley Road to St Mary’s Wimbledon which crowns the hill. The oldest faith community in Wimbledon dating from the 12th century and probably mentioned in Domesday it is a  very active and beautiful church (grade II listed). Rev Susan Bolen described the layout of the church and the practices of the Anglican Christian faith. A modern brass commemorated the abolitionist William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery campaigner. In the churchyard there is a  large mausoleum to Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the renowned embankment engineer who designed the London sewer system around 1858. Bazalgette was said to have been the Victorian that saved most lives as his sewage system was adopted internationally. Two great reformers!

The last stop on the walk was the Shree Ganapathy Temple in Effra Road established in the 1980s.The temple emerges from a Wimbledon suburban street, and we were warmly welcome. Over thirty-three of us had made it! We were rewarded with our completion certificates. But we were to have a very well communicated explanation of Hinduism and their celebration of New Year! The samosas were lively and tangy – the best I have ever tasted.

The main deity in the temple is of Lord Ganesha. There are also deities of Goddess Durga (Parvati), Lord Hanuman, Krishna etc. The Sai Mandir was opened in 1981a prayer hall dedicated to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It was the first fully consecrated Hindu temple in Europe (1981).

The walk was to raise funds for the Merton Homeless Project – Faith in Action (all donations gratefully received!) and over five hundred pounds was raised. We are still counting the donations – so watch this space! Thank you to all involved that made this peaceful and educational walk possible.

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