Babajee stood at the gate of the Sikh Temple of Spokane, greeting the hundreds of guests who came to show their support.
“Thank you, thank you for coming,” he said, smiling — sometimes chuckling — as he grasped their hands and welcomed them.
“I am 5’6, but I feel like I am 6’6,” he said. “I am so very, very happy and thankful to the community.”
Babajee — a name given to Sikhs of a certain age who lead the temple — said he wasn’t surprised that some 250 people showed up at the gurdwara Saturday afternoon for Arms of Compassion.
“The people are so nice and they are always with us,” he said. “My family is very big now. Before it was 70 families, but now I am part of a very big family.”
Arms of Compassion, created by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, was created in response to the recent Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin. The Rev. Todd Eklof explained while the Sikhs worshipped inside, Spokane’s faith community joined hands and formed a circle around the temple, to symbolize support and protection.
“It’s an opportunity to express compassion … all we had to do was open up the opportunity for people to let their love flow,” he said.
Eklof said Arms of Compassion is a message to the Sikh community that Spokane’s faith community is mourning for their loss and to say, “we’re glad you’re in our community.”
This weekend Sikhs celebrate their 10th master, or guru, and read through all 1,425 pages of their sacred text. Around the clock someone is inside the temple reading the scriptures out loud.
Before joining hands, Eklof addressed the crowd and said all people are united as one.
“If you don’t know what Sikhs are, I invite you to look at your religion. That’s what Sikhs are about,” he said.
Baldev Singh, a member of the temple, said the large turnout says a lot about the people of Spokane.
“It testifies that there are enough people in our community who know when to do the right thing,” he said.
Tony Bakshi, a member of the temple, said he was in awe and humbled by the turnout, “Thank you…God bless America.”
Dale Avery, a member of the Unitarian church, said he wouldn’t have missed Arms of Compassion for anything.
He said it wasn’t all that many years ago when a gunman walked into a Unitarian church back East and shot worshipers.
“We know what this is like,” he said. “It’s very tragic. This is a time for people of all faiths traditions to come together.”
After circling the temple for one hour, the visitors dined with the Sikhs. Sharing a vegetarian meal is a Sikh tradition, one that is offered every Sunday following the 11 a.m. worship.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.