Everything you always wanted to know about somebody else's God in 15 minutes

On Sunday afternoon in a Hamilton church, hundreds gathered to discuss religion and faith, speed-dating style.

Speed-dating style, this Sunday event allowed Hamiltonians to learn about 17 different faiths

People talking about Roman Catholicism, Sikhism, Atheism, Anglicanism, Buddhism, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, First Nations Spirituality, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, Quakerism, Scientology, Unitarianism and Zoroastrianism met on Sunday at the The First Unitarian Church of Hamilton. (Flora Pan/CBC)

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."

The speed-meet kicked off with a brief opening session that covered the religions and faiths represented on Sunday's event and some rules. (Flora Pan/CBC)

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."

#HamiltonForAll

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.

Each booth had reading material about the specific faith or belief system. In the photo are representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox group. (Flora Pan/CBC)

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."

Tasneem Ghouse is from Dundas, Ont., where there is something similar happening on a much smaller and more intimate scale. (Flora Pan/CBC)

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.

About the Author

Flora Pan

Associate Producer & Reporter/Editor

Flora Pan is a multimedia journalist based in southern Ontario. She currently works out of Windsor. You can reach her at flora.pan@cbc.ca or on Twitter @FloraTPan.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.