Monday 12 February 2018

Vijay Patel RIP - My personal reflection on the community memorial service in Mill Hill

"The Lord works in mysterious ways".
This was something my mother, a wise lady of Irish ancestry would often say when tragic events, family crises and periods of great life stress resulted in family reconciliations, new friendships and a deeper wisdom of the daily struggle we call life.

On Saturday night, the local Mill Hill community came together with the wider family and friends of Mr Vijay Patel, the shopworker killed in Mill Hill Broadway. A memorial service and a gathering was held at the Sacred Heart Church in Mill Hill Broadway in memorial for Mr Patel. This event was something which resulted from a conversation between myself and Fr Michael McCullagh. In the immediate aftermath of Mr Patels tragic death, I felt that the Mill Hill community should do something to respectfully pay tribute to Mr Patel. I also felt that we should respond to the appeal for funds for Mr Patels family, who faced severe financial hardship as a result of the tragic events. As I am a member of the Parish Pastoral Council at The Sacred Heart Church and it is the nearest church to the shop where Mr Patel worked, this seemed the logical place to start. Fr Michael agreed that we should offer to host a "cross community event" and asked me to help him put it together.

Local faith leaders join together
As we reached out to members of the various communities and Mr Patel's family and friends and  I discussed with Fr Michael, we agreed that a short, multi faith service in the Church, with readings from various scriptures by members of faith communities would be most appropriate, so that people could properly pay their respects in a manner in keeping with their beliefs. We also agreed that the reception in the church hall should be a chance for the various communities to mingle and commemorate Vijay in a spirit of love and brotherhood.

We reached out to our contacts across the community and tried to have the widest community representation as possible, with the focus very much on us all being part of the same wider family of humanity. We were most heartened by the response from across all the groups we contacted.

I was delighted that the Mayor of Barnet was also able to attend along with Martin HC Russell, Her Majesty’s Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London, representing Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

As the memorial service drew nearer, I found myself worrying about all manner of aspects of what we had planned. Most of the worries were irrational and simply based on ensuring that we had covered all bases with cultural sensitivities etc. Perhaps my biggest worry was that enough people would turn out to ensure Mr Patel was given a fitting send off. As the memorial was pretty unprecedented in Mill Hill, we didn't know how many people to expect or cater for. We estimated that somewhere between 100-300 people would turn up.

Arriving at the church to check all of the preparations, greet people and show people who were unfamiliar with the church where the various facilities were, I was heartened as the church started to fill up. By the time the service was underway, the pews of the church were full with a diverse group of residents of Mill Hill, friends and family of Mr Patel. As it was about to start, we even had a large delivery of somosa's sent by the Day of The Raj takeaway, who said that although they couldn't attend they wanted to do their part and make sure no one was hungry at the reception afterwards.

For those that attended a booklet was produced, several people asked for an order of service to be printed here, for those who could not make it.

The order of service was as follows (This is from the draft booklet, apologies if there are any omissions etc, I was not taaking notes). Many people suggested that I published the prayers and readings on the blog, as their was a universal feeling that they were apt.

We began with an introduction by Fr Michael

Tonight we gather primarily as sisters and brothers mourning a brother who has died, sharing the same pain, offering words of comfort to Mr.Vijaykumar Patel’s family, praying to God, as we understand God in our lives, to bring healing to all who grieve deeply the death of someone they loved.

We begin with a reading from the Hebrew scriptures by a member of our local Jewish community,
A reading from the Hebrew scriptures by Harris Bard 
The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster, their leaving us, like annihilation; but they are in peace. If they experienced punishment as men see it, their hope was rich with immortality; slight was their affliction, great will their blessing be. God has put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with him; They who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.  (Wisdom 3:1–6. 9)

We then recited a Psalm

The Lord is my Shepherd  

The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me rest.
Near still waters he leads me he refreshes my soul:
He shows me the right path he is true to his name.
His goodness shall follow me all the days of my life. 
I will walk in God’s kingdom forever 
Though I walk through the darkness no evil I fear:
With rod and with staff you comfort my soul;
You prepare me a banquet in the sight of my foes.
My head you’ve anointed my cup overflows.

Surely goodness shall follow me all the days of my life:
I will walk in God’s kingdom, the house of my Lord:
Singing praise to the father and praise to the son;
And praise to the Spirit forever AMEN.

A Reading from the Quran:

Mr Patels employer at Rota Express, who is a member of the local Muslim community then gave us the Scripture reading. 
 “To Allah (Almighty God) we belong, and to Him is our return.” (Qur'an 2:156)
"Multitudes of men have walked on the surface of this Earth. They all belonged to different nations and cultures. A few of them made history for which they were remembered, whereas others were never to be mentioned again. Although each one was personally different from another - their habits, thinking and tastes differed - they all had two (2) things in common, first, they were all delivered from their mother’s womb (birth) and second, they all tasted death. Who claims he has lived a thousand years?
Almighty God blesses us with all His gifts. The Sun gives us light during the day to help us see and it helps our crops grow so that we can eat. But the Sun also teaches us other things. The Almighty God causes the day to die with its setting and allows the night to take over, which is a time for rest. In this way, He may be showing us that all of us will eventually have to die just like the day.
And when the Sun rises in the morning again after our period of rest, it is as if Almighty God is telling us that we too will be raised to life after we have died. These are all signs of Almighty God to teach us to take care of our life."

We then had some reflective music, beautifully sung by Roz from the Sacred Heart musical group
I Watch The Sunrise

I Watch the Sunrise
I watch the sunrise lighting the sky,
Casting its shadows near.
And on this morning bright though it be,
I feel those shadows near me.
But you are always close to me
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.
I watch the sunlight shine through the clouds,
Warming the earth below.
And at the mid-day, life seems to say:
I feel your brightness near me.
For you are always . . .
I watch the sunset fading away,
Lighting the clouds with sleep.
And as the evening closes its eyes,
I feel your presence near me.
For you are always . . .
I watch the moonlight guarding the night,
Waiting till morning comes.
The air is silent, earth is at rest
Only your peace is near me.
Yes, you are always...

A reflection by
Dr Shah
 Dr Shah spoke about Mr Patel, his life and his role in the community.
Followed by a Hindu prayer :
Dr Upma Prayer
Jai Shree Swaninarayan
Vijaybhai’s life and death have forced us to reflect on the meaning of life…..his life and ours.
This short prayer is from his ATMA (soul) to us and from our ATMAs (souls) to each other.
The prayer asks us to follow a path of friendship, righteousness and forgiveness to gain ultimate salvation or Moksh from this cycle of birth and rebirth.
Hun Sarvano mitra chhun                     
 - I am a friend to all
Badha mara mitra chhe                          - All are my friends
Koi man jeev paap na karo                    - May no one commit sin
Koi man jeev dukhi na thao                - May no one be unhappy
Baddha jeev sukhi thao                        - May all be happy
Badha niramay thao - May all be strong and free of disease
Koini saathe mare vair nathi - I have no enmity with anyone
Koi maro apradhi nathi - No one has wronged me
Sarvne dharmana sadhahni ni prapti thao - May all get the instruments to attain dharma or right path
Badha Dharma pamo -
- May all attain the path of right conduct
Darkni vair, virodh ane ashubh vruttio nash pamo   -
May all tendencies for enmity, grudges and wrong belief be quashed
Badhana raagdwesh sami jao - May all passions positive and negative be quelled
Badha parkna hit ma rakht bano - Be the life source for others benefit
Badhane samatv mahaamrutni prapti thao - May all attain the essence of truth equally
Badha jeev darshan, gnan and charitrani sadhanama khub khub aagal vadho - May all progress in the vision, knowledge and experience of the spiritual path
Sarve jeevo karmathi mukht thao - May all be free of Karma (positive or negative)
Sarve atmao parn kalyan ne pamo - May all souls attain the ultimate salvation or Moksh
Om               Shanti               Shanti         Shanti
Fr Stephen from St Michaels and All Angels Church then read a text from St Johns Gospel.
A Reflection on God’s love
Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.  (John 3:1-3)

Fr Michael then lead us in a Moment of Quiet Reflection
followed by a poetry reading
For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Announcements and Word of Thanks 

Words from The Mayor 
 The first citizen of Barnet, Councillor Brian Salinger, gave a short address on behalf of the local council and local residents. He stated that whilst such events were rare, we seek to use such tragedy to help us make our community better
Closing words from Mr Ravilal Gorsia 
Mr Gorsia stood up and said some moving words, his theme was that all beliefs share the same basic morality and it is incumbent on us all to ensure that these values are kept alive and that we don't let materialism rule our lives to the extent that life becomes something of no value

Final Thank you from Fr. Michael: 
"Thank all of you for coming thanks to all for enriching our night in word and song.  Once more we offer our deepest sympathies to Mr. Patel’s family and we will continue to remember them in prayer.  Following our Hindu prayer for peace and our  hymn now we invite you to come to the hall for refreshments where Mr. Roger Tichborne, who thought first of bringing us all together will have a few words for us. "

There followed a Hindu Prayer for Peace. 

Oh God, lead us from the unreal to the real
Oh God, lead us from darkness to light
Oh God, lead us from death to immortality
Shanti, Shanti Shanti unto all
Oh Lord God almighty, may there be peace in all celestial regions
May there be peace on earth,
May the waters be appeasing
May herbs be wholesome and may trees and plants bring peace to all
May all beneficient beings bring peace to us
May thy Vedic Law propogate peace
All through the world
May all things be a source of peace to us
And may peace itself, bestow peace to su
And may thy peace itself, bestow peace on all
and may that peace come to me also

Our musical team finished with a well known hymn.
Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there's doubt, true faith in you
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness ever joy
Oh, master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in  pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving of ourselves that we receive
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.

After the Service finished, we adjourned to the church hall for the reception. I spoke with members of all our local communities as well as Mr Patels family.  Everyone I spoke to had a great appreciation of the shared reflective moment. Many of those present had never set foot in the Sacred Heart previously, despite having lived in Mill Hill for years.

Many said they'd never heard the scriptures of the other faiths before. All said that it was clear that the basic morality behind all faiths is the same, to an extent that maybe they hadn't appreciated until they heard the readings side by side. After Mr Patels employer spoke during the church service, members of the community burst into applause. He had spoken of his genuine warmth and appreciation at the reaction of the people of Mill Hill to the what has happened. He said that he was overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity. It struck me as a mark of our community that a Muslim should be addressing a multi faith gathering in a Catholic Church, mourning a departed Hindu colleague in a moment of community solidarity. If only such things could happen everywhere in our world today.

Your Saving Grace
We should work for peace, we should treat everyone as our brothers and sisters, we should seek to raise our level of consciousness beyond simple material wealth and greed and we should cherish and protect our neighbourhood and our environment. We only have one planet. We can work to make it heaven or hell. We can treat our neighbours with warmth and friendship as brothers and sisters or we can treat them with fear and suspicion. We can treat our local environment as something we cherish, which delivers us food, drink and beauty or we can treat it like a toilet and watch it become an ugly, barren wasteland. The amazing community spirit I saw on show, convinced me that the our community wants to take the path of goodness. When I got home, I was exhausted. It had been a very long week. As I often do, when I need to relax, I sat down, lit a candle in a darkened room and looked for a suitable record from my vinyl collection to chill out to. The first record I pulled from the collection was "Your Saving Grace" by The Steve Miller Band. I stared at the album cover and probably spent two minutes just contemplating it. I've not listened to the album or looked at the cover for maybe 20 years. I simply meditated on the words "Your Saving Grace" and the artwork. A line from the title track formed in my mind. A tragic thing has happened in Mill Hill. We mourn. We must work as a community to build bridges and try and fix the problems that lead to such tragic events. I leave you with these lines, written by Tim Davis in 1969 from the album.

Rise up with the new dawn's early morning 
Feel the sunshine warm upon your face 
Tomorrow's come a long, long way to help you 
Yes, it's your saving grace

(Copyright Universal Music Group  - Tim Davis)

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