Earlier this week I attended the St. Louis Interfaith Partnership Dinner and Celebration. I went as a representative of the non-profit I volunteer with and had not had any prior experience with this particular interfaith group. It ended up being a wonderful and very eye-opening evening. I was floored by the sheer number of people in attendance. It must have been around 400 folks, representing just about every faith/humanist group in the metro area. People were greeting each as old friends, catching up, and having faith dialogues. The evening commenced with honoring a longtime volunteer from the LDS community and a keynote speaker that discussed his journey from Christianity to Islam. The mood in the room was uplifting and joyful.
The event planners had arranged the seating so that every table would be a mix of religious denominations. I am not sure how, but I ended up being the sole Unitarian Universalist at a table full of Pakistani Muslims. After the initial awkwardness of being the "outsider" to this group of friends, we slowly broke the ice and it was great. They were all in their 50s-60s and had been in St. Louis for thirty or so years, some spoke English better then others, but they were all so friendly. We eventually got on the topic of our beliefs and they were very curious of mine. At first I was a little uncomfortable as I don't often delve into such deep topics with people I barely know, but I am glad I did. It was very engaging and we all left feeling that we had a lot more in common then not.
What touched me the most though, was after the event. I went out to get my jacket and ran into one of the women from the table. I didn't get to talk to her very much as she was seated further away and had a harder time with English. She was also fully covered in a headscarf and reminded me of a sweet grandma. When she saw me in the hallway, she rushed up to me and took my hand, hugged me and kissed me three times. It was one of the most amazing, touching things I have ever experienced. It almost left me in tears. Friendly, open dialogue truly can make the difference. That is why this work is so important.