- Associated Press - Friday, March 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Six women, six spiritual journeys, six life-altering experiences with faith.

Most of these Utah women found themselves traveling far from their religious origins, often prompted by a crisis or awakening. A couple were born into a particular faith tradition and stayed with it, but with newfound awareness and appreciation.

They shared their stories with about 70 people March 10 at a Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable in a small Sugar House chapel that belongs to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. The discussion was part of the Roundtable’s monthlong celebration of the religious diversity in the Beehive State.

For Rev. Carmela Javellana-Hirano, the catalyst was her mother’s death.

The Philippines-born dynamo, who was reared as a Catholic, had become a doctor, married and had a child before she moved to the U.S., where she entered a “spiritual vacuum” amid this country’s materialism and self-absorption.

But the loss of her last parent, followed by a divorce, she said, left Javellana-Hirano feeling “the shock of impermanence.”

Once she found Japanese Buddhism, with its emphasis on wisdom and compassion - and her second husband, the Rev. Jerry Hirano - she said she felt “like I came home, like I was no longer alone.”

The Rev. Christine Myers-Tegeder, or “Pastor Chris,” of First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City calls herself a “second career pastor.” Her first career was as a professional orchestra conductor and teacher.

“I am not from a family that breeds ministers,” Myers-Tegeder said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1FT9mAU). “I am not someone that you could expect to become a pastor.”

But her “calling” to the ministry, she said, shows that “God can use anyone - including me.”

Myers-Tegeder said her early life events - including being abandoned at birth, adopted only to have her father leave when she was 6, reared by a single mother dealing with addiction - gave her an empathetic lens to see those in pain.

When Virginia Hecker was growing up in Detroit, Judaism was her world. On her way to school every day, Hecker walked by the Jewish bakery, butcher shop, candy store, bagel factor and so forth.

“It took no effort to be Jewish,” she said. “We celebrated holidays at home with the family and attended services.”

After her move decades ago to Utah, where she worked at the Utah School for the Deaf for 34 years, Hecker saw none of those Jewish establishments and it was tough to find Jewish friends.

But she became involved in Congregation Kol Ami, and focused on one of the faith’s central tenets: “tikkun olam,” which means to repair the world.

And, at 63, Hecker has her bat mitzvah, during which she reads and chants from the Torah.

Since the ritual was uncommon for girls when she was a child, she quipped, “It was 50 years in the making.”

Maysa Kergaye, who runs the Islamic Speakers Bureau, told how she went from a rebellious teenager, resisting her Muslim mother’s attempt to make her more religious, to a hijab-wearing believer in just a week.

Jenny Hale Pulsipher described how her Mormon faith has been enriched and deepened by striving to balance her work — she teaches history at Brigham Young University — and by staying in relationships with loved ones who have lost their faith.

The evening concluded with the story of how Wendy Stovall, an assistant pastor in Utah’s Unification Church, started by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, found her way from Zimbabwe to a London park, where she met a friend from that faith.

Raised as an Anglican, Stovall found little comfort in that tradition after her divorce as a young woman. The Unification Church, she said, held many answers to the theological questions that troubled her.

“God,” she said, “was taking a role in my life.”

That view was a common thread in the evening’s tapestry.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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