News Release

What a Sikh Parade in Edmonton Taught Latter-day Saints About Religious Freedom

“Religious freedom safeguards the right of all people to hold their own religious beliefs and express them openly without fear of persecution or being denied equal rights of citizenship”
(“Religious Freedom: The Basics”).

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Edmonton area were recently reminded of the importance of religious freedom, thanks to a Sikh parade. They learned that supporting someone else’s right to worship freely in the community strengthens their own understanding and appreciation of this principle.

Edmonton’s Sikh community has been celebrating Colours of the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan Sikh Parade since 1999. This annual event takes place on a Sunday in May and has grown into an important gathering for the local Sikh community.

The celebration marks the birth of Sikh religious tenets and practices. It involves a procession with heads covered and the sharing of Sikh holy hymns through song and chanting. The term “Nagar Kirtan” means “bringing the religion to the community” (“Sikh Religion’s Celebration of Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan”).

In Edmonton, this procession travels 6 kilometres from the Gurdwara Millwoods to the Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, passing directly in front of the Church’s Millwoods chapel.

Chantelle McMullin, communication director for the Church in the Edmonton area, described, “In the past, it has been a challenge for our members to access our Church building and attend services [during the parade]. This year, President Nathan Baldry of the Edmonton Alberta Gateway Stake decided to reach out to parade organizers before the event and offer our help by providing our building facilities to event participants.”

Baldry explained, “This is a major event in our community, and as a [religious organization], we felt like we could do more to help our Sikh friends out. It was wonderful to work alongside each other and make the day such a positive experience.”

This gesture of friendship led to a partnership with the Sikh community. Baldry adjusted worship services for the four Latter-day Saint congregations meeting along the parade route, and then offered the Church’s facilities and parking lot for those attending the Sikh celebration.

McMullin explained, “All Church meetings were held early in the morning to accommodate the use of the Church parking lot and washroom facilities and to avoid traffic congestion. Latter-day Saints then volunteered as ushers and hosted those visiting the meetinghouse.” The Church parking lot was turned into a space for those attending the parade to park or use as a rest stop.

McMullin added, “Making small adjustments to our own worship services so that we could support the Sikh community reminded me of the importance of everyone being able to worship and express their faith openly in our community.”

Latter-day Saints believe that for religion “to exert its positive influence, religious organizations and people need physical, social and legal space to practice their religion. … Religion is not just private worship; it involves public expression on social and moral issues” (“Religious Freedom”).

Latter-day Saints have a special commitment to religious freedom. For nearly 200 years, Latter-day Saint leaders have taught the importance of religious freedom for everyone: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (“Religious Freedom”).

After the event, Surinder Singh Hoonjan, chairman of the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan committee, wrote in a letter to the Church: “At the core of faith systems and traditions is the recognition that we are all in this together and that we need to love and support one another.”

Gagan Kaur Hoonjan, in an article about the parade written for the Edmonton City as Museum Project, said, “Through oneness and connectedness, we are no longer strangers to each other; rather, we see each other through love and acceptance while granting each other the grace to live our individual lives according to belief systems that honour our unique identities.”

Read the story in French

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