You've heard of speed dating, where singles meet new people briefly and then rotate to the next station and the next? At a popular lounge this week in Omaha, with jazz music piped in overhead, there was an unusual variation.
It wasn't speed dating, but rather speed dialoguing. Yes, it was also face to face, but this event was called “Face to Faith.”
It was another example not only of Omaha's diversity but also of a growing openness, which bodes well. Participants identified themselves as Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Unitarian, agnostic and atheist.
Organizers say they know of no other cities that have borrowed the speed-dating concept to bring together people of different faiths or of no faith.
“Omaha is a great test market for commercial products,” said Beth Katz of Project Interfaith. “If it works for candy, why not be a test market for really creative interfaith work?”
As about 40 people took their places Tuesday at the Slowdown rock club and bar north of downtown, Katz urged them to follow the ground rules, which included no proselytizing. She drew laughter when she said that for experienced speed-daters, “This will be a little déjà vu, minus the romantic overtures.”
Conversations sounded friendly and animated — each in five-minute increments before a whistle blew, signifying it was time to change partners. When the round-robin ended an hour later, participants were upbeat.
“It allowed people to be comfortable in Omaha as a welcoming city,” said Lonnie Michaels Jr., 30, a Baptist and a quality-control manager.
Katie Hensley, also 30, a speech therapist in Council Bluffs who worships at the Community of Christ, called the evening a grassroots effort “where we're not battling each other and can find common ground instead of focusing on differences.”
Neil Thorne, 23, who recently arrived in Omaha from Virginia, said he is “non-committal” on religion but enjoyed hearing about others' faiths.
Sarah Gettie Burks, 29, a hospital chaplain and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, called the event “a fabulous way to get to know like-minded young adults who really value talking about cultural, religious and faith differences.”
Omaha is gaining attention for its planned tri-faith campus — with a temple, mosque and church. A Canadian Muslim author recently asked on his website whether Omaha is becoming “the interfaith capital of the world.”
Project Interfaith, led by Katz, is separate from the tri-faith campus venture. Katz, who is Jewish and a 2000 Creighton University graduate, said that for efforts to work globally, “the interfaith movement needs a lot of capitals all over the place.”
Breaking down cultural barriers is difficult, but Omaha is trying. Even with speed-dialoguing, it's not speedy. But we're willing once again to be a national test market.
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