Breaking Bread and Boundaries

March 18, 2008

Author: Stephanie Simon

Source: The Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/features/religion/la-na-table18mar18,1,1513287.story

The four couples were just settling into small talk over appetizers when Kenneth Holloman cleared his throat.

"Would the group permit me to ask an impertinent question?" he said. "How many here believe there's a hell?"

It was not your typical icebreaker.

But then, this was not your typical dinner party.

The couples, strangers to one another, had been brought together by Common Tables, a nonprofit that aims to nurture interfaith friendships. Holloman is an atheist; his wife, a Methodist. Their group included a Jewish couple; a Baptist minister and his wife; and a couple who left the Mormon Church and now belong to a New Age movement called Religious Science.

Common Tables puts together group rosters and asks members to meet for dinner at least four times. Participants can talk about theology or the weather. They can share prayers or photos of their children. Nothing's required. And nothing is off-limits, except proselytizing. The point is simply to reach out, to shake hands with a Buddhist, enjoy a glass of wine with a Wiccan, share laughs with a Sikh or an agnostic or a Jain.