Students as Interreligious Dialogue Fellows

Written by Hannah Crivello
March 20, 2015

Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry is proud to recognize two students in the Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership program, Talya Gillman and Mary Mitchell. Both are recipients of a two-year award from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation--a full scholarship for select Jewish, Christian or Muslim students having an interest in interreligious ministry.

The fellowship resulting from the award requires recipients to serve 10 hours per month in a special internship setting. For their requirement as ?Carpenter Fellows,? Talya and Mary are contributing their time and energy to the school?s ecumenical and interreligious dialogue efforts, with the support of Dr. Michael Reid Trice, Catherine Smith, and graduate assistants Corey Passons, David Chilton and Ann Mayer. As a part of their fellowship, they will be assisting with the school?s upcoming Interfaith Earth Day event, dialogue groups, co-sponsored programs and events, and future strategies for the school?s ongoing work.

Talya was also recently awarded the Pomegranate Prize by the Covenant Foundation for her work as an emerging leader in the Jewish community (read more here), and is the Coordinator of Community Partnerships for the University of Washington?s Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center. She also serves on the school?s Ecumenical and Interreligious Student Advisory Council.

Talya comments:

?I?m thrilled to have begun the Transformational Leadership program at Seattle University because I see these studies as a springboard that can help launch me from wanting to inspire and mobilize people to engage with ideas of personal interconnectedness and justice ? especially across lines of difference ? to actually being able to do so. The learning outcomes that undergird the program, the courses that contribute to those outcomes, and the content and experiences of the courses I've already engaged in are simultaneously affirming, provoking and inspiring. The program is helping me develop necessary interdisciplinary skills and holistic grounding, while empowering me to weave the perspectives and learnings I'm gaining into my personal and professional endeavors.?

Mary has a theater background, having served as a drama, theater and arts director at several schools and centers around the nation?including through her own nonprofit, ?Zarts!?. She has worked with community arts councils in both Vermont and Salt Lake City, to help further programs for emerging and female artists. Most recently, she has worked with both elementary and high school students in Seattle?developing a digital storytelling curriculum for students with learning disabilities, and language arts curriculum for at risk students. Throughout her time at Seattle University, Mary has worked with the university?s Campus Ministry department to coordinate and host a variety of interfaith events. Recently, she helped organize a women?s interfaith panel on campus for both undergraduate and graduate students, entitled ?Women?s Way of Knowing? (read more about the event online, here). Mary also participates in a new interfaith student club, started by students at the School of Theology and Ministry, and open to all students at Seattle University.

Mary shares:?

?It was a pure and total reflex of ?this is for me!? when I first read about the MA in Transformational Leadership program. The program has fit with where my life is taking me, especially with my desire to make a difference on a larger stage. I was looking for a way to integrate the many different skills and talents I?ve gained from years of working in the arts, along with leadership theory and practice?in order to work in the service of global understanding and peace. A big goal! But why not go for the big time? Now that I?m one year into the program, I know without doubt that I made the right decision. The tools I?m gaining and the doors that are already opening make me incredibly grateful, and I couldn?t be doing all this without the Carpenter Scholarship and Fellowship. I am both excited and humbled to have been chosen for this award. ?One of the best things about the Carpenter Fellowship has been that I have been thrown right into the middle of the interfaith activity that Seattle University is pioneering. ?It is very exciting to be able to make a contribution to this work of cross-cultural and interfaith understanding. ?It is also a wonderful blessing to be able to ?give back? to the university in this way. ?I have been inspired by all those I?ve gotten to work with, and I feel lucky to have had mentors like Tad Monroe in Campus Ministry and Rabbi Laytner at the school. All in all, I feel that I?m in the right place at the right time, both for myself personally and for the work I wish to do in the future.?

Mary took some time this past month to share a bit about her own faith journey as well. Read more, below.

For more information about the Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership, visit here.


?A Window into My Faith Journey?
Mary Mitchell

?As a recipient of a Carpenter Scholarship, it seems that it may be worthwhile to describe my faith journey, as it is in some ways reflective of a new demographic of people who are returning to faith, after spending time away from the faith traditions that grounded them in their childhood.

I was raised in a family with a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. In turn, my experiences in ecumenical dialogue began at a very early age! I grew up as a part of the Catholic Church until my parents were divorced. At that point, I followed my mother into Protestant faith communities, attending and being confirmed in a Congregational fellowship.

Like many of my generation, I ceased attending church once I left home and went to college, but had a great thirst for spirituality, and a desire to learn about other religions. I was very interested in discovering how people respond to the Divine through many pathways, including Native American spirituality, Sufism and Zen Buddhism. I was the person who wasn?t afraid to go up to and talk with the Hare Krishna folks on the streets and in airports.

It was Genpo Roshi, one of the teachers at the Zen Center where I was a member, who sent me on the next phase of my journey. ?In one of his Dharma talks, he asked, ?How many of you are here because you are avoiding your original religious faith?? ?That question created quite a tremor in my inner being and, somewhat kicking and screaming, I began to look into the Christianity I had been raised with.

This rediscovery was not an easy undertaking for me. I had wounds from my experiences in churches, particularly as a woman and the views I had encountered regarding gender roles. It then took me many years to come to terms with the excesses and injustices perpetrated by the human beings who created the structures we now call religions, and to come to a core faith as a Christian. There was a great deal of ?undoing? that had to come about as part of the process of claiming the glowing light of a personal relationship with my Savior.

I recognize that in some venues, my faith journey is not very politically correct. Depending on where I find myself, when I say I?m a person of faith, this puts some people off. They don?t know what to make of it. ?They usually think that means I?m going to try to convert them, and sometimes they back away. But I believe that I?m on the cutting edge of a societal movement--back to core values of love, and compassion and above all else, community. I am dedicated to sharing this core value as we turn together toward the future and find (and re-find) the foundational values of a new and more compassionate world.??