Yes, today we went to a Hare Krishna Temple. No, it wasn’t an accident and there were actually two reasons why we wanted to take off our shoes — which is required — and visit.
Reason number one had to do with the event, Doors Open Toronto, where this year about 160 normally off-limits buildings open their doors to the general public for formal or self-guided tours. This is the tenth year for DOTO, as it’s now known, and our visit two years ago included a number of visits to houses of worship belonging to sects and faiths with which we were decidedly unfamiliar.
Reason number two had to do with the temple itself. The one in Toronto is actually the former Avenue Road Church — yes, we get lots of jokes out of the redundancy of the street name “Avenue Road” — an Alliance Church where years previously, Charles Templeton preached.
We joined a guided tour already in progress where this connection was being explained. I later explained to the tour guide — who pointed out that four years after a fire destroyed much of the building, Templeton became a rather outspoken agnostic — that it was Templeton’s unfinished mission that inspired a young American evangelist to pick up the ball and run with it; that young man being Billy Graham. She wasn’t aware of that part of the story, which some of you know if you’ve read Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith (Zondervan).
As we snacked over cauliflower deep fried in chick pea flour, she said she would include that bit of trivia in her next tour. Actually, the tour information was long on establishing the history and architecture of the building and rather light on beliefs and doctrines. I almost got the impression that they were trying to downplay their doctrine to establish more of a common bond between themselves and members of the public taking the tour. Even our last stop, the bookstore and restaurant area, was described as “the former Sunday School part of the building.” Perhaps the DOTO organizers insited on, or strongly suggested that emphasis.
But in fairness, as with the tours we did two years ago, I was impressed with how normal and “nice” our tour guide seemed. She could be your next door neighbour, or someone who works at the office cubicle next to you. Not some zealot for a fringe religion. (And she did, when asked, discuss their beliefs by way of comparison with Hinduism which is polytheistic, whereas their faith is monotheistic.)
As with our previous visits to other places, I put on my sandals and considered how positive, warm and inviting it all seemed and wondered how our churches appear by comparison to people like them. I also wondered how many people touring Doors Open Toronto this weekend would find the visit causing them to want to know more about this faith, or consider attending their Sunday night service. And so it seems fit to ask questions similar to those the other blog post ended with: (a) Are you open to visiting houses of worship of other faiths? (b) What would people who had never previously set foot in a Christian Church think of your house of worship as you guided them through and told them what the different rooms are used for?
Pictured: The front of the former Avenue Road Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as it now appears as a Hare Krishna Temple.