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Central Alberta’s first Sikh temple opens in a transformed Red Deer church

The Gurdwara opened in North Red Deer last month
Paul Bhullar, treasurer, and Nishan Singh Sandhu (on right), president of the new Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar of Red Deer. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)

Nearly 20 years in the making, the first Sikh place of worship in central Alberta has finally opened in North Red Deer.

The Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar is located in a former church at 5911-63rd Street in Highland Green. (The building was previously the Cornerstone Gospel Chapel).

Gurdwara president Nishan Singh Sandhu said the opening of this place of worship last month is very important to the Red-Deer area Sikh community, which has been wanting to have a local gurdwara since about 2005.

With more Sikh people moving to the Red Deer area, fundraising efforts kicked into high gear last fall. Sandhu said from October to December, the greater part of $450,000 was raised among 150 Red Deer families, a further 25 regional families, and other Sikh supporters in Edmonton, Calgary, and Surrey, B.C.

With some individuals contributing as much as $10,000 to the gurdwara fundraiser, the former church could be purchased with no mortgage, he added — which shows how vital this temple is to the Sikh community.

“We feel God gave us everything, nice houses, everything… but we don’t have anything if we don’t have any place to get together” and observe the faith, said Sandhu.

Previously, Sikh families had gathered once a month in rented community halls. When the group outgrew an initial space in the Eastview hall, members moved to the Bower Community Hall, said Sandhu.

But now that the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar is open, Sikh families have plenty of space for meditation, prayer and learning about the faith. The temple will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The literal meaning of the Punjabi word gurdwara is “residence of the Guru,” or “door of the Guru.”

Sikhs believe God is present everywhere. The gurdwara is a place to display the Sikh Holy Book, to learn spiritual wisdom, have religious ceremonies, and where children can learn the Sikh faith, ethics, customs, traditions and texts.

A gurdwara is also a community centre, and offers food, shelter and companionship to those who need it.

Vice-president Gurcharan Singh Gill said the local gurdwara welcomes everybody, so he hopes to be able to build relationships with the wider community.

Gill noted many central Albertans don’t know much about the Sikh faith, the reason Sikh men wear turbans, or other aspects of Sikhism, so he hopes to have some cross-cultural exchanges.

The tradition in a gurdwara is for both sexes to remove their shoes at the entry and to wear head-coverings in the upstairs temple.

Everyone sits on mats on the floor as a symbol of equality. According to Sikh rules of reverence, it’s forbidden to discriminate on the basis of religion, sex or social position. Sitting on the floor shows that no one is better than anybody else, said Paul Bhullar, the gurdwara’s treasurer.

To be of service to others is one of the tenets of the faith. Sandhu said meals are created in the basement kitchen for visitors every day, and some food will be donated to the local homeless shelter.Plans are underway to expand and renovate the basement space into a commercial kitchen, so more meals can be made and donated, he added.

Another benefit of having the local gurdwara is to help serve the 250 international students who come to Red Deer from India to attend school, said Sandhu.

“We will help the students,” he added, noting “everything is going up,” so many young people who are far from home will appreciate being able to drop by for a meal and some companionship.

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