Stories of Women of Different Faith Traditions

We gathered at the CNY Rise Center to share food, conversation and stories of strong women of faith. Homemade soups joined fresh breads on the buffet table—along with tempting homemade desserts and fragrant tea provided by the Turkish women, our gracious hosts. What better reason to brave the cold than body-warming soup and heart-warming conversation! It was a wonderful opportunity to share stories and get to know those at our table a bit better.

Danya Wellmon introduced the topic and panel. As 2018 has been called by some the “Year of the Woman,” panel members shared stories of female leaders who have made a difference in their faith tradition. Our panel consisted of: Betty Lamb (Judaism), Penny Hart (United Methodist), Seval Bibar (Islam), Cindy Rahrle (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), and Sue Savion (Unitarian Universalist).

Betty chose to highlight two relatively modern strong female leaders in the Jewish Faith. First, Golda Meir, born in the Ukraine, raised in the U.S., teacher, mom, resident of a kibbutz, who became a politician and a driving force for the new nation of Israel. She was the original “Iron Lady.” Second, Ivanka Trump, who converted to Orthodox Judaism and is a devoted wife and mother keeping a kosher home. Intelligent and accomplished, Ivanka speaks two languages; her many roles include author, businesswoman, fashion designer, and White House advisor to her father, President Donald Trump.

Penny spoke about Alma Matthews, an important figure in United Methodist women’s history.  In1885 the Female Home Missionary Society of Methodist Episcopal Woman became concerned about the plight of immigrant girls and women arriving in New York City. Those traveling alone or with small children were at risk of being robbed or exploited. Alma’s parents established an Immigrant Girls’ Home; they met the ships and offered these women free lodging and protection. Alma continued this mission becoming a greeter at Ellis Island and continuing to feed, house and help these young women.

Seval pointed out that Khadijah, wife of the Prophet Mohammed, set the perfect role model for women: she was wealthy, a businesswoman, educated, and devoted wife. Seval highlighted the extraordinary life of Rabi’a, a female Sufi mystic born in the 700s in Basra into a poor family. After she was orphaned, she was sold as a slave to a merchant. After her owner watched her pray all night, he was so moved by her devotion that he granted her freedom. She went to Mecca, where she became powerful as a Sufi mystic and teacher. Rabi’a placed her love of God above all else; she refused to marry because she believed it would create a boundary between her and God’s love.

Cindy spoke about two female leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, kept the farm going and raised her children in the face of death threats and persecution while her husband was away building the faith. A Relief Society she began has grown into the largest female relief association in the world. Its motto “Charity Never Faileth” presaged the emphasis on charity so fundamental to Mormon religious practice today. Martha “Mattie” Hughes Cannon was another 19th century woman of extraordinary achievements. Her family walked the Mormon Trail and settled in Salt Lake City. After her father and sister died of disease, she determined to become a physician. Her path to a medical degree was arduous and circuitous, but Martha persevered determined to both fight disease and demonstrate that women deserved to have a voice.

Sue told the story of Olympia Brown, a strong woman of faith in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Olympia had a strong drive for education and became the first female graduate of a theological school (St. Lawrence) and the first woman ordained in a denomination (June 1863). She was a strong suffragette who delivered 300 speeches in the cause and protested in front of President Woodrow Wilson’s White House. Her advocacy and tactics were instrumental in getting the 19thamendment to the US Constitution passed and ratified.

Danya then invited questions, comments and additional stories of women of faith. Joy Pople posited three biblical women who did not exist: three wise women who brought the Christ child practical gifts, arrived on time and left a casserole!

Helen Hudson talked about her involvement in founding Mothers Against Gun Violence in Syracuse in 2002. Helen spoke in depth about her efforts to raise outrage at the number of gun deaths affecting youth in Syracuse. Mothers whose children had been murdered led vigils on street corners. They went to elementary schools to talk with young children, so many of whom had been traumatized by gun violence. Helen spoke of a HOPE INITIATIVE that we can all get involved in: $2.2 million from New York state has been made available to help lift people out of poverty. Mayor Ben Walsh is working with the county to address this issue.