IN FOCUS

You've gotta have faith

Older people in Leeds are from a diverse mix of faith backgrounds. How has their religion given them strength and comfort? In this month’s In Focus we hear from a range of older people about what their faith means to them.

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November 2021

The Indian writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore wrote that “faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” This poetic image helps sum up the experience of lots of us living through the last 18 months. There have certainly been some dark dawns – and there continue to be. But many people believe their faith helps them find some light in that darkness.

 

Older people in Leeds often mention their faith when they share their story in Shine. For some, their religion is an integral part of their lives, without which they would be lost. Their faith gives them strength, community and focus. We asked several spiritual older people to share their thoughts with us. Why is their faith important to them? Why do they continue to believe? How did they become people of faith? How has their faith helped them through difficult times? How did it feel when places of worship closed for public health reasons? What is important about meeting together as a community? Some wrote down what they thought, other people expressed their experiences in short interviews.

 

It’s important to note that there are many, many faiths and religions in Leeds. Christianity has multiple denominations; Islam has different sects. There is a dazzling array of ways to express your spirituality. Some people don’t like the term “faith”; others have no religion, but still adhere to a moral code. Many people find faith in humanity or in nature or find peace through meditation. Others pray and talk to their God – but they don’t go to a temple, mosque, synagogue or church. The following testimonies are from people with lots of different identities and backgrounds, but they don’t encompass every faith, every belief, every religion. If you think your own personal beliefs aren’t being represented and would like to send us your thoughts and reflections, please do! We’re always looking for new stories and fresh perspectives.

It’s important to

note that there are many, many faiths

and religions in Leeds

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Manjula
My faith is important to me as a Hindu. It’s a personal belief in God’s spiritual world. It’s about happiness, mental health and depression. If you do meditation, you do feel better off. If you have anxiety or stress, I believe that God will give us strength to live our life. If you go to Temple, you find peace and quiet – and much happiness. My faith is what I am. Sometimes you cannot talk to your friends or your relatives, but you can talk to God. God is your friend. If you have hard times, God will listen to you. If you believe in God, you have the ability to talk to God. If you tell your sadness to God, God will listen.
 
Betty
I was brought up in Wales by my mother who was Church of England and my father who was Jewish.And I went to a Catholic High School! When we were young my sister and I were sent to the local High Church but were not happy there it all seemed dark and very dull. One day some friends asked me if I fancied going to a youth club just started by a Congregational Minister at the church. It was on one condition I had to go to Sunday School there every week. The Minister was called Windsor Hicks, a wonderful man under whose wing I became a member, eventually a Sunday School teacher and Leader of the Youth Club. He married my husband and I and christened my first child. He taught me to believe and 80 years later I still go to church; my faith is still strong.
 
Just like anyone else I have had my ups-and-downs, but having Christian faith has been my backbone - keeping me strong. Due to my husband’s work, we have lived in various parts of the country and my first port of call has always been the local United Reformed Church (URC), where I always found willing friends, advice, and a strengthened faith. Nowadays, I attend Stainbeck URC where the minster leads a very friendly, community-spirited congregation. When Covid came along and we could no longer use church premises, she bravely taught us to use Zoom. Her inspiring services have held the church members and our faith together throughout lockdown.
 
Nizam
We are Muslim. It’s a simple thing. In darkness and weakness, it gives you strength. Islam is a bit different from other religions because it’s a way of life. You pray 5 times a day – every single day. It reminds you of who you are and where you are going. And it keeps you on a straight path. There are loads of things we houldn’t be doing – but we do them anyway. When we go and pray it reminds you that you shouldn’t be doing bad to people around you. It’s quite straightforward. In Covid, we didn’t go to mosque. It was like a prison. You can’t see your friends, you can’t pray with them. It was really, really hard.
 
Kulwant
 
I live on my own. I love it and I love to live my life with freedom. I was born a Sikh, in a Sikh family. I love my religion. It is very good. We are born to help the needy people, the old people. People who physically and mentally ill – we help them. We do what we can. Other religions do this too. Our priests says our religion is just to help the old and the needy people. I do worship daily, without fail. Morning and evening. I feel satisfied, mentally. I am on the top of the world!
 
Banooparma
When you are young you are not very much into praying. As you get older you get more into praying, you see your parents and you do it too.
 
Ruth
For many people there is an ongoing question: what is Jewish identity? They can claim a Jewish identity without any connection to religion. It is more of a connection to a long history, over two and half thousand years. My family was Jewish, and my grandparents came from Belarus and maybe Poland at the turn of 19th and 20th century. My parents were both born here, in Newcastle and South Shields. I didn’t know any of my grandparents, but they would certainly have spoken Yiddish. They died before I was born. I would say that we were traditional rather than religious. My mother was determined that we had a strong Jewish identity. I went to Hebrew classes after school 3 days a week and on Sunday morning.
 
I was born not long after the war and the horrors of the Holocaust was still in the minds of the adults. So, continuity and identity were very strong. I say traditional rather than religious because my mother followed what her mother did, not from a spiritual belief. For example on Saturday morning, which is the Sabbath, Shabbat, my sister and I would go to synagogue with my dad and in the afternoon, we would go shopping with our mum to get the zips, threads, linings, buttons, things for the next week for the dressmaking shop she ran. This is the day of rest and not meant for such activity.
 
That’s the background to where I am today. When I left home at the age of 18, being Jewish was not very important to me. However, in my 30s I got to appreciate the richness of the culture I was born in.
 
I am from European heritage, Ashkenazi and that is only one of many Jewish cultures, from Arab Jewish, to Spanish, Ethiopian and Chinese among others. I’ve returned to embrace my Jewish identity. I strongly identify with my heritage and culture and have reclaimed some of the rituals. I love the connection with the seasons with Passover in the spring, Jewish new Year in September/October. On Friday I light candles with my husband and for 25 hours we connect with each other, with nature and hold back from the mundane, everyday work. Now I am learning Yiddish, the language of my grandparents, a mixture of old German, Polish Russian and Hebrew. I’m proud of the deep ethical basis for how we live now, with other people and with the earth. I’m glad I got the early education in Judaism so I can embrace the life affirming aspects of Jewish religion as well as the richness of the culture.
 
Nutan
Hindus do prayers every day. Every day, when you get up, you have a shower, you get dressed. The first thing you do is to pray to God. You light a candle and pray. But when you meet together, you feel good.
 
Noodin
I am Muslim. I was born in India and came from Pakistan. Islam is important to my heart because it gives me comfort. We stayed home in the lockdown. Now it is better.
 
Paul
My mum was a staunch Catholic. I went to a Catholic grammar school, taught by priests and I served on the altar at the Catholic church. But I didn’t agree being forced or obliged going to church. At school, we were instructed to make the sign of the cross as we passed a catholic church and we were taught how to make the sign of the cross without making a fuss.
 
I’m really interested in religious art. I’m an artist myself and the Stations of the Cross were an important symbol to me. They gave meaning visually and artistically. The Stations of the Cross are representations of the path Jesus bore on his way to the crucifixion. Whenever I go to a city, I often visit cathedrals and look at their works of art. What I see with the Stations of the Cross is an artistic side to religion. Look at any form of religion, any creed and you will see this. There are a number of churches whose displays tell the story of the death of Christ and they all basically have the same meaning. I may have gone to church more if I was encouraged by the priest to look at the art in the church and say what I thought!
 
Surinder
I am Sikh. We believe in God, in Guru Nanak. There are lots of Sikhs in Leeds, loads of temples too. They are really good at supporting older people. If anyone has any problems they always help. They’re always helping other people. We were closed for Covid for a long time, we couldn’t go. But I do go every Sunday now. You can see your friends and you miss them if you don’t go. I always like fun things as well. My faith has got stronger. As you get older you believe more. When you’re younger you don’t bother. But when you’re older it means more.
 
Kulwant
I live on my own. I love it and I love to live my life with freedom. I was born a Sikh, in a Sikh family I love my religion. It is very good. We are born to help the needy people, the old people. People who physically and mentally ill – we help them. We do what we can. Other religions do this too. Our priests says our religion is just to help the old and the needy people. I do worship daily, without fail. Morning and evening. I feel satisfied, mentally. I am on the top of the world!
 
Parveen
I am Muslim. It’s a peaceful religion. It makes me feel peaceful, believing in God and the prophet. I don’t go to the mosque every week. For ladies this is not necessary. But I pray 5 times a day. Islam teaches us to respect our elders and if they need any help, we help them.
 
Judith
I’m a Christian. Since lockdown last year I’ve been relying on the Bible Network Channel, which is Freeview channel 65. I’ve been watching it on TV. They have songs, artists, different programmes. I find it helpful. I write down the name of the songs. I hope to get a collection of the songs together to help me.
 
Saroj
My Hindu faith is a powerful medicine to give peace to my mind, body and soul. My faith gives me an inspiration in my work and helps me be successful in whatever I do. Meeting and getting together with my people make me happy. Sharing other people’s views and ideas. We create a sense of community. It makes me feel a sense of belonging to each other. My faith keeps changing as I get older. It helps me in my domestic position and with my health. In Leeds we have a temple which is open in the morning and in the evening for people to come in, get together and pray. This is 7-days-a-week. We celebrate our cultural days together as a family.
 
Thanks to all our contributors. It’s clear that many older people are relishing getting back to seeing their faith communities face-to-face. Faith has played a hugely important role in the lives of thousands of older people in Leeds and it will continue to do so.
 
In conclusion (and to quote Irish comedian Dave Allen): “Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you.”
 
(Special Thanks to: Vandan Hindu Women’s Group; Association of Blind Asians; Hamara Elders Senior Citizens Group)

 

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