Last February the Bothell Hindu Temple and Cultural Center made the news after getting tagged with hate speech. On May 2 Madi Wil- liams, Anna Chandler and I went on a goodwill visit to represent Welcome Table. Some of the youth had previously expressed interest in learning about other religions as well, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do both.
The temple was glad to have us visit and had arranged a tour for us that day with Mr. Ganesh Prakash, one of their trustees. Our arrival soon became an experience well outside of our comfort zone. When we walked up to the glass door entrance we could see a large class of children on the floor just inside and a sign that said “Please use side entrance.” So the three of us walked around to the side of the building— past construction materials and piles of lumber —to the first door we saw. It was locked. The next door was open. We went in and were met with stares from Hindu priests engaged in chanting and ritual in a large room to our right and some people who appeared to be praying in a smaller room on our left. Anna and Madi looked at me, and I decided to move to the smaller room on our left. As I did, a woman hurried up to us and said, “You must take off your shoes in our building!” Oops! Just then Mr. Prakash came rushing up, having realized what happened at the front door. He showed us where we could put our shoes and then took us to a sink to wash our hands “because you have handled dirty shoes.” This part, we learned, is part of their normal ritual upon arriving at the temple.
Mr. Prakash showed us a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, in the form of an elephant, near their main entrance. We learned that every temple has its own local god, and Ganesh was theirs. He then invited us to pray to Ganesh, and stepped aside so we could do so. Well this was new too! We hadn’t expected to actually pray to their gods during our visit, and it was odd to be put in that position. What to do, without appearing rude or disrespectful? In that moment I thought well, if our God is everywhere, why not here too?
As we entered another room, Mr. Prakash showed us a poster of the different gods and goddesses of Hinduism and what they represented, and took us to a corner where the idols (as he called them) were set up in a row for people to pray to. We ended in the large room with the chanting priests. This room, the size of a gymnasium, had three smaller house-like structures within, each holding the idol of a god, and is the first of three gym-sized rooms planned for their site. So construction and fundraising was another common thread between our communities! Mr. Prakash said their temple is a center of cultural activity for the Indian community of greater Seattle, and people who might not worship together in their native India come together here. We got to see the construction up close—the fine hand carved walls and doors on the inner houses, still being constructed. It was quite beautiful.
As we prepared to leave, I read the following to Mr. Ganesh from our Mission Statement, “We are Christians living happily in a multi-faith world and working to heal it as best we know how.” I expressed our sorrow that their community had been the target of hatred, and that we welcomed their presence in the Seattle area. He seemed to appreciate that, and acknowledged there is much we share in common between our two faiths.
Later over lunch Anna, Madi and I talked about our experience. We all enjoyed the tour, even though it was awkward at times. We agreed that it was cool that we were invited not just to observe but to participate in their religion. We figured God was okay with it too. We hope to do a few more visits to other places of worship in the year ahead.