On the left: Ministerio Gracia (formerly Southwood Baptist Church and the church I use to attend)
|On the right: Austin Gurdwara Sahib (the only standing Gurdwara in the Austin metroplex, but NOT the one I attend)|
I have been a part of the Sikh community for about two-years now and have attended Gurdwara services across the state of Texas. From Dallas-Fort Worth, to Houston, to San Antonio, and to Austin (where I currently live). I haven't visited ALL of the Gurdwaras (I've visited about 80%), but I have a good picture of the lay of the land here. As a former Christian, when I compare the Gurdwaras to the church, I see a lot of room for improvement for the Gurdwaras. I'll touch on this more below.
Note: I would like to add that the following is written from the perspective of a Sikh from Texas. For those who live in Canada, the UK, California, NJ/NY, etc., you might not be in the same situation or not be able to relate. Congratulations! But a lot of Sikhs living across the country will be able to. I would also like to shout out three Gurdwaras that I think are doing a fantastic job in not just the Sikh community but their local communites as well. They are as follows: Sikh Dharamsal of San Antonio, TX, Gurdwara Nishkam Seva, of Irving, TX (Dallas), and the Sikh Center of the Gulf Coast Area (Houston).
When it comes to the church, not only do you have a nursery for babies and Sunday School, you have classes for those over 18. Some churches have young adult class (targeting at college students), ladies class (which my mom use to teach), men class, Senior Saints (aka old people class), classes for people who don't speak English (so for people from Mexico, to India, to Kenya, etc.), and this list gets bigger the bigger the church is. In these classes, we are not only learning about our religion, but we are supporting each other spiritually.
When it comes to the Gurdwara, what do we have? Khalsa school. Period. And Khalsa schools/Sikhya classes only go up to a certain age. Where does that leave all the Sikhs over 15-16 at? "But there's camps!". First of all, not everyone can afford to go to the camps or are able to. Secondly, you can not create a solid Sikh lifestyle based on a few days out of the year you go off into the woods. It is important that Sikhs of all ages are continually learning no matter what stage they're at. Heck, the word "Sikh" means learner.
For the most part, pastors at Churches are pretty approachable and are available to go to for help or advice. And let's say you speak Spanish. Someone at the church can translate what the pastor is saying to you (or they can at least find someone to do it). It makes the church feel that much more welcoming to the outside community and like a place of acceptance and comfort. On top of that, you might have deacons, ministers, bishops, priests, nuns, etc. who are versed in the religion and that you can approach if you don't feel like approaching the head.
First of all, I commend all the people who take care of the Gurdwaras on a daily basis. It isn't easy (especially living in the conditions some of ya'll do). But don't you think it would help a lot if the people taking care of the Gurdwara could not only speak Punjabi but the language of the local people? Or better yet, who are approachable? I'm looking dead at you Gurdwara committees and Presidents. There are a few Gurdwaras here in Texas where the Granthis speak English. And that makes the experience that much better and makes the Gurdwara feel that much more welcoming. Not only is it great for Punjabis who cannot speak Punjabi (like some Sikh kids I know can't) and converts who cannot speak Punjabi, but great for interfaith activities as well. I'm not saying get rid of the hour-long Punjabi kathas (which are necessary), but can you please do at least a 15-minute katha in English? Pleassseeeeeee? Plus, being bilingual would help knock down a huge barrier for Bhai Sahibs/Granthis (which I notice are solely isolated to the Gurdwara because they cannot communicate with the community around them).
Now, Christianity only is better at Sikhi than this probably by 5%. And since we are on the topic of physical fitness, no, the basketball courts do not count. I'm talking about a weight room. Or a gatka room. A room all Sikhs can come to and work on their fitness. Sikhs eat a lot (which we aren't supposed to anyways according to Gurbani 👀), which means we have a lot of calories to burn off. So get a treadmill set up or kettlebells or dumbells, or something and have Gurbani playing in the background. Dasam Bani is especially great for this.
As I am editing this, my friend Navdeep reminded me of something else that churches have that a lot of Gurdwaras don't. Say if you are suffering from an addiction or mental illness. A lot of urban churches will have something to help you recover from it, alongside side any psychiatric help or rehabilitation you are doing. The Gurdwaras (apart from a few in the UK I know of) don't have this. Now, Sikhs are highly educated. You can not tell me there isn't a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or therapist in your Sangat. Or someone who can fulfill that role. The Sikh community cannot be strong until it gets over some of the issues that people are privately dealing with. It's time that Gurdwaras not just become places of social gathering but of healing.
So yeah. That is all I have to say for now. I could say more about these are the big ones I can think of. If you are on a committee, or are a president, or are a sevadar at your local Gurdwara, I pray that my words inspire you to action. If not, Waheguru. For those who read this till the end, I am very much appreciative of and always love having your support. Until next time, Waheguru ji ka Khalsa! Waheguru ji ki Fateh!