From Adventist to Zen, Exploring Religions in Sydney

Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.

~From Bhagavad Gita

One of the major ways I have kept myself busy in Sydney is attending every possible religious service from every possible religion I can. Because it’s an international city and the language is English, I felt it would be the perfect opportunity.

First, I agree with this Zen Buddhist about the religion of my birth (LDS):

“When we respect our blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors, we feel rooted. If we can find ways to cherish and develop our spiritual heritage we will avoid the kind of alienation that is destroying society and we will become whole again. We must encourage others, especially young people, to go back to their traditions and rediscover the jewels that are there. Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions and this will benefit everyone.”

~From Living Buddha, Living Christ

Meanwhile, I have also found it increasingly important to acknowledge the universality and commonality of all belief systems.

It seems that very often, people are as uninterested in visiting and understanding other belief systems as they are to visiting and understanding foreign cultures.

Yet a person’s belief system—often their religion—determines so much of who they are, like the Bhagavad Gita says.

So I made it my mission to set out to understand other religious affiliations in Sydney. I’m now keen to visit and understand other faiths and belief systems the way I do other countries.

Anglican:

How to attend: There’s a large church on 3 York Street down by Circular Quay.

My first impression: It was a curious mix of a conservative setting—a vast hall with a preacher at the pulpit— and a modern message about jealousy in relationships with your significant other and with God. Both men and women passed out sacrament. We went to the evening service so there weren’t any other kids, and we left early. The service was engaging.

Bahai:

How to attend: Join the Soul Cake meetup group. Meets once a month.

My first impression: A very accepting faith.The Bahai believe and quote religious teachers from many different traditions. The people were all very friendly and fun, and even though none of them had kids they didn’t mind that Ryder was tampering with the overhead projector and otherwise getting into mischief.

Jehovah’s Witnesses:

How to attend: The closest one to downtown is off of Oxford Street in Paddington on 20-22 Leinster St.

My first impression: Very interesting. The inside feels very plush. There are no paintings or other religious symbols, but a map of the world presumably to illustrate where JW missionaries are. There is a booth with pamphlets. I felt uncomfortable for two reasons. The first was that the speaker led a (very dry) discussion and asked questions, and I noticed that not an original thought seemed to be shared in response. It was all directly from the manual we were reading out of, but people acted like they were speaking spontaneously. For example, he asked “What is a fig?” And some woman went off about the antioxidants and the texture. I thought she just knew a ton about figs, til I saw it written in the manual. I didn’t get the sense there was much free speech there. Secondly, the people were clearly very pushy to get us to come back. They followed us out making contacts and asking if we were coming next week. Fascinating. I’d like to come again, but I have to say I found it creepy.

Seventh Day Adventists:

How to attend: The closest is 219 Edgecliff Road in Woollahra near Bondi.

My first impression: Very similar to Mormons—conservative, family friendly. I loved the vegetarian meal afterwards. I think they’re a little stuck on the Saturday observance thing though, to me the difference between Saturday and Sunday worship is not a make-or-break thing.

Jewish:

How to attend: There’s a synagogue on 166 Castlereagh Street

My first impression: I wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t let me in. I even said I was interested in converting and gave my phone number. They never called. I accidentally mentioned Palestine in the series of questions they asked me, maybe that was red alert for them. Someone told me if I’d called in advance and gotten permission I might have had better luck.

Quakers:

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How to attend: There’s a branch in Surry Hills at 119 Devonshire St, 10:45 am Sundays.

My first impression: It was too difficult to take a baby there because their worship service is complete silence. I wasn’t fond of that because it’s stressful—actually, impossible—to keep a baby completely silent, but I really learned a lot from one of the parishioners there. He was explaining the three types of Christianity: there are the ones in which the top religious leader is the ultimate authority (Catholics and the Pope) there are the ones who believe the Bible is the ultimate authority (born again Christians) and there are the ones who believe personal revelation trumps everything else. Quakers fit into that model. I love that pacifism is a central tenet of their faith. The people were for the most part elderly.

Buddhist:

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How to attend: There is a Sydney Buddhist Center at 24 Enmore Rd,  Newtown

First impressions: I chose to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday at the town hall. And we went to hear the Dalai Lama speak. The thing that stuck out to me the most is the explanation of non-attachment. At first I thought it seemed like Buddhism was say to learn to love things less. But his explanation, that non-attachment means non bias, makes more sense to me. If you are so attached to something or some idea so that you can not see clearly, you are too attached because you have become biased. Nearly everyone attending the event at Town Hall appeared to be Asian.

Falun Gong:

How to attend: (Pictured below) Sydney City Site 1
Sheltered area at side door of Entertainment Centre, Darling Harbour (opp. Little Pier st)
SAT-SUN 9am-11am

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First impressions: I was completely lost. I didn’t get anything spiritual out of it. It was very physically taxing to hold my arms in the air for 10 minutes straight. I needed some sort of prep for what I was doing and why, but everything was in Chinese and everyone else there was old and Chinese. I have no idea why this is banned in China. I would like to learn more and try again with someone to explain as I went along. I believe that this is a type of meditation but I needed an English translation in order to follow it.

Salvation Army:

How to attend: 140 Elizabeth Street next to Hyde Park.

First impressions: This seemed to attract a certain kind of crowd. The former druggie/impoverished/less educated/elderly group. The lesson was on how based on our personality we experience spiritual things differently, but this doesn’t make us better or worse than anyone. I enjoyed it.

Hindu:

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How to Attend: Visit http://srimandir.org/ and try to attend a celebratory festival, as we were lucky enough to do.

First impressions: A wonderful flashback to India, and everyone was so welcoming despite us being clearly the only non-Hindus in the room. The music, incense, colorful gods, and saris filled my heart with joy.

Atheists:

How to attend: Join the atheist meetup group on Meetup.com. They have weekly/monthly meetings around Sydney.

I know it drives atheists nuts to be classified as a religion, but I do find them to often be as evangelical as any thoroughly religious person, so I wanted to see what it was all about. Unfortunately, all of their meetups are so late in the evening it’s really not family-friendly—normally past Ryder’s bedtime. So I sent Jacob to go without me, and he let me watch from Skype. It was a lot of this is NOT true, this is NOT what science says. They were concerned about being represented fairly in political matters and I can understand a desire to keep church and state separate. However, I dig all things spiritual and prefer it in my life, so this isn’t a group I’ll probably continue to pursue.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 366 awesome articles for us.

  • jumper

    Just curious, how tall are you?

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