Yesterday and today

Sept 29 – Oct 5, ’05
VOL 124 NO. 33
Yesterday and today
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
InterReligious Council hosts its first annual Dorothy F. Rose Women in Religion Forum

DEWITT — Nearly 150 men and women from a variety of diverse faith traditions attended a forum to benefit the InterReligious Council (IRC) of Central New York at Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church in Dewitt on Sept. 20. They came to explore the topic of religious leadership and women’s changing roles.

Tina May wanted to attend the forum the minute she heard about it. She is a professor of Social Work and Human Services at Onondaga Community College. “I’m very interested in integrating spirituality with the field of social work,” said May.

The inaugural event was inspired by the work of Dorothy F. Rose, executive director of the IRC from 1977 to 1998. It was created with her in mind. “Dorothy had a passion for inter-religious work and was committed to building relationships among religious communities,” said Renee’ McCaffrey, IRC’s Director of Development. “Dororthy passed away in 2002, but she would have been proud of this evening and this panel. The forum is a tribute to her memory.”

Created as a part of IRC’s mission to foster religious, racial and ethnic understanding in the community, the forum was an enlightening exchange of experience and personal perspectives from five esteemed female faith leaders in the community including: Rabbi Rachel Ain of Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas; the Rev. Roko Sherry Chayat of the Zen Center of Syracuse; Sister Kathleen Osbelt, OSF, of Francis House; Michele Yasmin Abdul Sabur of the Islamic Society of Central New York; and the Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, retired Episcopal priest.

Syracuse University professor Barbara Fought was the panel moderator and led the group in exploring topics such as the attributes women distinctly bring to leadership in religious organizations, challenges female faith leaders face, misconceptions about women’s roles in faith organizations and changes to women’s leadership roles in the last thirty years.

In the late 1960’s, panelist Rev. Betty Bone Schiess, with the assistance of the Syracuse chapter of the National Organization for Women, started a movement to have women ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. In 1977, as a result of Rev. Schiess’s efforts, the Episcopal Church voted to allow the ordination of women. Rev. Schiess believes that the most important change in women’s leadership roles in the last 30 years is that women now have the opportunity to be ordained. “This has helped the church more than it has the women,” said Rev. Schiess.

Sister Kathleen Osbelt, OSF, founder and director of Francis House and also a panelist at the forum, cited several changes in women’s leadership roles in the last 30 years. One is that many of the sisters are not wearing a habit any longer. “Another change is that today the sisters’ ministries have extended well beyond teaching in Catholic schools and nursing in hospitals,” said Sister Kathleen. “We’re helping many more people today.” She believes that one attribute that women distinctly bring to their leadership in religious organizations is the power of intuition.

Panelist Rev. Roko Sherry Chayat is Abbot of the Zen Center of Syracuse. She has practiced Zen Buddhism since the 1960’s. She finds it a challenge when she interacts as a female faith leader with male faith leaders. “I don’t feel gender equality,” remarked Rev. Chayat. “I’m quick to take criticism that confirms my feeling that I don’t deserve to be a leader. I feel disempowered deep inside.”

Panelist Rabbi Rachel Ain, of Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas, is the first female pulpit Rabbi in Central New York. She has seen a change in women’s leadership roles in the last 30 years. “After being teachers of the faith in the home, Jewish women now have the opportunity to be ordained,” Rabbi Ain said.

Panelist Michele Yasmin Abdul Sabur, a member of the executive committee of the Islamic Society, said that women’s leadership has grown because of increased access to education.

At the conclusion of the forum, Rev. William Redfield, president if the IRC board of directors and rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, reflected on his experience. “It was very special,” he said. “To have this open conversation that means so much to people seems extraordinary. To continue this kind of conversation in her honor is a wonderful thing. It captures her spirit.”

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