In Australia, religious communities were one part of society expressly impacted by the ‘lockdown’ directives introduced to stem the spread of the virus. On 29 March all places of religious worship were effectively closed by the restrictions that limited non-essential indoor gatherings to two people. In Victoria, lockdown came again on 9th of July, with border closures. Here, we look to faith community experiences in time of lockdown. On this page, we look to the experience of the members of the Sikh community at Glen Osmond Gurdwara, Adelaide South Australia.
Glen Osmond Gurdwara, Adelaide South Australia
The Glen Osmond Gurdwara is one of several Sikh houses of worship in Adelaide, South Australia. Formally established in 1988, it is also home to the Sikh Society of South Australia Inc, a body representing South Australian Sikhs, with approximately 240 members. Most of those who use the Gurdwara are ethnically Punjabi. Some are members of the Society, while others draw from the community, including local residents, migrant workers and international students. The Gurdwara is available for all and is open each day to be used for prayer or other religious or social purposes. A priest is usually onsite who can answer questions about the religion or provide guidance or spiritual support.
The Gurdwara holds several worship services each week, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings. A usual service goes for approximately two hours, where people listen to the teachings of the religion, pray together and hear the singing of traditional mantras (kirtan). On special occasions the Gurdwara can host up to 4,000 congregants. The most popular service — Sunday mornings — sees around 500 people meeting regularly. On Sunday morning The Punjabi School Adelaide also meets during the service. The students study Punjabi and the teachings of Sikhism while their parents attend the regular service. After each service the community gathers to share a meal that is cooked on site in the communal kitchen from donated food. It is a chance to socialise and eat together, as well as a way to provide for others in need in the community, who are welcome to join in. Although the Gurdwara does not count numbers, a “portion of overall” are international students.
After the restrictions on public gatherings were introduced, the Gurdwara has moved to streaming some of its services online, although a shortened (45 minute) version of the full service. Amardeep Singh, one of the Gurdwara committee members and Chairperson of the Punjabi School, noted that setting up online services was challenging because of the need for specialised equipment and skills to produce livestreaming. Streaming has now enabled it to reach a larger and broader audience, with individuals from India even sitting in. As “Sikhs believe that God is everywhere”, it hasn’t caused any spiritual difficulties for the congregation to worship and pray from home.
One of the positive things to come from the restrictions is the new way to engage with technology, says Amardeep, “we can see the advantage of using livestreaming to engage a broader audience and it is something the Society will continue in the future if it can source funding for it.” The Gurdwara is mindful there may be elderly or vulnerable members of the community who do not choose to come back to the public services once restrictions are lifted and the use of technology for broadcasting and communication will allow them to benefit from a sense of communal gathering, even if they can’t physically meet together anymore.
As “Sikhs believe that God is everywhere”, it hasn’t caused any spiritual difficulties for the congregation to worship and pray from home.
As well as the regular services, the Punjabi Sunday school has continued to operate remotely, livestreaming and producing tutorials for the students and other online resources. The teachers, who work as volunteers, have been producing this content, and again they have seen the benefits of being forced to engage with technology in new ways. However, one of the challenges that has arisen for the school has been acceptance of this mode of learning in some families. Others now have work commitments on Sundays, which means their children cannot attend online on Sunday mornings, although they can still use the tutorials and resources.
One of the regular activities really missed by the Gurdwara members, says Amardeep, is sharing a meal together after the service. For some congregants this was a crucial part of their week, and they looked forward to the free warm meal and community support. To try and address some of this need, the Gurdwara has developed a food distribution program that has distributed approximately 600 kilograms of flour and other food stuffs like rice since restrictions have been in place, but it hasn’t met people’s social needs in the same way the community meal did. Another challenge for the Society has been the loss of revenue. While it has set up provisions for direct deposit, most people tend to donate money (and food) in person. With the restrictions and social distancing measures in place, its revenue has decreased significantly. Still, the Society is striving to meet its members’ and the community’s needs as it can. “One of the things that has helped is the realisation that this is not just something being experienced by their community”, says Amardeep. Other Gurdwaras in Australia, even worldwide, are in the same situation. Everyone “is in the same boat.”