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Surrey Spiritual Summit Strives for Positive Community Connections

David Dalley
(Surrey BC’s David Dalley, Surrey Spiritual Summit Event Coordinator. Photo by Bronwyn Scott)

People from diverse belief systems are gathering at Camp Alexandra Retreat and Conference Centre on Saturday, March 1st, for Surrey Spiritual Summit, designed to promote understanding and build positive relationships across traditions.

The free event, initiated by Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, features workshops that explore such themes as values, youth, children, environment and art, with speakers from a range of backgrounds.

The summit, funded by the provincial government, is designed to address the nuanced differences among our communities, focusing on worldviews rather than observable differences.

“The way that multiculturalism has been done has sometimes focused too much on the superficial elements of diversity,” said David Dalley, event coordinator. The different ways we eat and dress, for example.

“Sometimes it’s those deeper elements of misunderstandings around beliefs or values or religious practices, or spirituality, that’s where a lot of misunderstandings occur,” he said.

Dalley is a pediatric physiotherapist and works with severely disabled children.

About six years ago, he and his wife decided they were going to be very intentional about raising their own two very young children to be literate in diversity and to be good global citizens.

“We were starting to look at ways to connect in the community and to build those relationships and those experiences for our children,” Dalley said.

They found that, even in Surrey where there is a mosque on one corner and a gurdwara on the next, it was difficult to learn about these places as parents and to teach and expose their children to them.

That’s when Dalley started doing interfaith work, organizing events for people of different religious, spiritual, humanist, philosophical or atheistic belief systems to encourage constructive and positive connections that cross ideological boundaries.

But learning about other cultures was important for his professional role, too, working with families of children in medical crisis.

“I became aware that it is really important to understand how families understand quality of life and suffering and meaning, and all of these things, if I am to work with their children,” said Dalley.

“Those are essentially religious and spiritual questions, and so even as a physiotherapist I’m going in and I’m talking about wheelchairs and crutches and exercises, it was helpful for me to figure out all these other sort of contextual things.”

Surrey Spiritual Summit is the first event of its kind in Surrey, and is designed to appeal to people in all professions and stages of life. The youth workshop, for instance, is run entirely by and for youth.

“Youth are so vibrant with their definitions and their manifestations of their spirituality and their ways of acting that out in the world, whether it’s art or activism . . . they may not define them in traditional ways, they may not identify or affiliate with a particular religious tradition, but what they’re doing is spiritual transformative work,” said Dalley.

“Bring religion and spirituality as it means for you. Not what the old men think it is, or others, but how you interpret it, understand it, express it. And with the real hope to empower youth to be spiritual and to let that guide their activities and their sense of agency in the community.”

The children workshop focuses on exploring children’s own ideas about the sacred, and participants who attend this workshop and the rest of the conference can receive six hours of early childhood education professional development credits from the Liberation Learning Project.

The music workshop will feature people from different traditions using the language of music to connect, playing with music together and then inviting the audience to participate.

“Sometimes our minds get caught up in differences and misconceptions, but if we just sort of be playful together sometimes we can get beyond that and get to know each other a bit better,” said Dalley.

A First Nations Blessing Ceremony before the workshops begin will set the day off and a Hindu prayer will conclude it.

Surrey Spiritual Summit is by registration and space is limited. A free lunch is provided. For more information contact interfaith@movingtogether.ca.

Bronwyn Scott
Bronwyn has lived in Ottawa, P.E.I., Victoria, Squamish and Surrey, B.C. She has an English degree (SFU, 2011) and a journalism degree (Langara College, 2013) and for four years worked with Sandra Djwa on Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, which won the Governor-General’s Non-Fiction prize in 2013. She’s an adventurous spirit who loves the outdoors and all things artsy. She’s written for the Surrey Leader, the Langley Times and The Squamish Reporter.