The bell rings and groups of people spring to their feet. It's time for the next table. Pat Simpson just finished talking with a woman about Islam and now wants a seat at the Bahá'í table.
Simpson is at The First Unitarian Church of Hamilton on Sunday afternoon at a "speed-meet" of 17 different religions and faiths (one more than advertised). Set-up like a career fair and speed-dating crossover, representatives of each religious and faith group answer questions and talk about their beliefs with people who want to learn.
Simpson said she was talking with a Muslim woman about their "similarities and common problems." It was everything they could learn about each other's religion in 15 minutes.
"We have common problems like 'I can't get my kids to come to church,' and they can't get their kids to come," Simpson said.
"Mainly it was [about] how similar we are."
For Simpson, chair of the worship committee at the St. James United Church in Waterdown, this event is a source for ideas on how to implement something similar in her community.
"Our church has always been interested in interfaith and learning more about others," she said, "We've been trying to do something like this for about four years."
The idea started with a conversation at a farmer's market. Julia Kollek had an idea and Sarah Wayland was interested and wanted to help.
"I had just been, that very week, kind of involved in a Facebook discussion that had to do with faith and belief, it kind of went bad," Wayland said.
"If they can each have an opportunity to meet them, to have a conversation with them, it can actually be very healthy."
Kollek and Wayland invited people from 16 different religions and faiths including people who talked about First Nations spirituality, Mormonism and Ethiopian Orthodoxy. There was a guest who spoke about Atheism too. About 120 people were in attendance.
The event came just a couple weeks after the launch of the new "#HamiltonForAll" educational campaign, run by the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council.
While the speed-meet was organized independently of the campaign, Wayland said "this is a really good example of the kind of activity that people can take to show that Hamilton is for everyone."
'They become like a big family'
The idea isn't the first of its kind in Hamilton. Something similar on a much smaller scale has been happening in Dundas, for about six years.
Tasneem Ghouse talked to all visitors on Sunday about Islam. She is part of a women's group at her mosque that has an close relationship with women at St. Paul's United Church.
"They didn't know anything about Islam, so we formed an idea to get together and find out," Ghouse said.
For years, women of her mosque and the church would meet every first Tuesday of each month to talk about women's issues, family, marriage and other aspects of religious faith. Things like Ramadan or Easter would also be topics of discussion.
"That's why we became so comfortable with each other," Ghouse said. They first met in the church or mosque, and eventually moved to rotating to each other's homes.
"They become like a big family, an extended family."
While the speed-meet isn't enough time for participants to develop strong relationships with others like Ghouse was able to in her community, having more of these events might just do the trick.
Kollek and Wayland put together a toolkit for those who are interested in starting something similar. Simpson has already signed up.