Since beginning my job as an intern for the Committee of Interreligious Dialogue I have been able to visit many new places of worship and participate in different services. Two services that have captivated me were an Orthodox service at the Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow, as well as a service I attended at the Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Glasgow. I noticed two important things that were similar between both of my visits to these places of worship: head coverings for men and women as well as the seating locations of the men and women during service.
Traditionally men and women are seated separately during worship in a Gurdwara as well as within an Orthodox Synagogue. The separation of men and women is a sign of respect because it helps ensure that the main focus is on prayer and God and nothing else. As a Catholic I was not used to this idea because I would always sit next to my father or my brother during our Church services. At the Gurdwara, I sat on the floor with my legs crossed, which I had never done at any worship service before. I sat on the left side of the room, which is where all the woman sat with their young children. However, the space between each of the gendered sections was not large, which made me feel less segregated. During my visit to the Orthodox Synagogue I sat on the woman’s side of the service, which was on the left side of the room as well. We sat on benches which were similar to the pews I was used to in the Catholic services. Traditionally in an orthodox service the women, who are sitting separately, do not participate in the service at all. This is different than at the Gurdwarda, where women can participate in different aspects of the service.
The head covering of both men and women is also mandatory in both services at the Synagogue and Gurdwara. This was another interesting point during my visit to both places of worship. During both services I wore a scarf over my head. Covering your hair, as a woman in both the Gudrwara and Synagogue is a sign of respect to God. It has been done in both religions since the formation of both. In the past, it was traditional in my own faith for women to wear a head covering also known as a mantilla. However, this practice has mostly been abandoned by Catholic women today.
Overall I think many of us can learn a lot by visiting a place of worship that is not our own. Learning about the differences and similarities in new places of worship can help us reflect and discuss how wonderful it is to come into contact with new faiths and cultures. I look forward to visiting many more places of worship in the coming months.