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Interfaith community to support Sikhs on Thursday evening

Christians, Muslims, and Jews from across Greater ­Boston plan to be at a service at Trinity Church Thursday evening to show support for the Sikh community in the aftermath of the shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

The "Service Rooted in the Sikh Tradition" is scheduled to feature sacred Sikh music, performed by singers and musicians from the four gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, in Massachusetts. Afterward, local Sikhs will feed everyone in a traditional langar, the free meal served at the close of a Sikh service, open to all in celebration of the religion's commitment to equality and sharing.

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"We started with an idea of prayers from different traditions, but realized that rather than a sort of classical interfaith service, what we really wanted to do was give people a taste of what Sikh life is like," said the Rev. Laura Everett, ­executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and an organizer of the event.

The local Sikh community is small – about 2,000 families, by one estimate. It had only modest ties with the city's larger ­religious groups before Wade Michael Page, who authorities say had connections to the white supremacist movement, killed six people and wounded three in an Oak Creek, Wis., gurdwara Aug. 5.

The tragedy became a catalyst for new and reinvigorated relationships among Boston's faith communities, as local ­gurdwaras hosted vigils to honor the victims and condemn ­violence in the days following the tragedy.

"The spirit that emerged out of this . . . it's just been so uplifting," said Sarbpreet Singh, a spokesman for the gurdwara in Milford and one of the organizers of the Trinity event. "It's very evident that for each hate-filled bigot out there, there are millions upon millions of people of faith who believe that the things that unite us are much more powerful than the things that divide us."

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Nabeel Khudairi, cochairman of the interfaith committee of the Islamic Council of New England, said in the aftermath of the Wisconsin shootings that he and other Muslims he knows felt great empathy for the Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans, and who as a result have been victimized in the decade since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We feel like we are suffering simultaneously," said Khudairi, who is also helping to organize the service.

After speaking at a vigil at the Milford gurdwara the day after the shootings, Everett found herself at a langar for the first time. She sat on a carpet to eat lentils, rice, and curries alongside two women she had never met, one from the Hindu community and one from the gurdwara.

The common meal was a powerful experience, she said: "There was a sense of abundance."

But when Everett and other organizers were planning the service at Trinity, they were surprised when Singh said his community wanted to feed every­one. This "seemed like an imposition"; the Christians, Jews, and Muslims should be the ones serving, Everett said.

But Singh insisted: Not only is the langar of crucial religious importance in Sikhism, he said, the Sikhs have it down to a science. "This is what we do every week," he said.

The langar tradition originated with the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, in the early 16th century in northern India. Nanak made egalitarianism a core principle of this new faith at a time when a rigid caste system prevailed.

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"The notion of sitting and eating with a member of a lower caste was revolutionary." Singh said. Nanak "came up with this brilliant idea that if people were to sit together and eat, that would give them an opportunity to show how committed they were to the principles of equality."

The service begins at 6 p.m. in the Copley Square church.


Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lwangsness@globe.com.