Faith Matters: Two Women, New to Territory, Lead Congregations on St. Croix

The Rev. Qiyamah Rahman, left, and Rabbi Marna Sapsowitz at the pulpit. Two women of different races and different faiths came to St. Croix to lead two different congregations at almost the same time. Despite the differences, they’ve found they have a lot in common.

New on island are Rabbi Marna Sapsowitz at the Jewish Community Center of St. Croix, and the Rev. Qiyamah Rahman at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. Croix. The two share the synagogue on Catherine’s Rest Road, and it is the first time both congregations have had resident clergy.

The two women became kindred spirits, starting with a cyber connection in May, before they met personally on Oct.4 on St. Croix.

“I’m amazed at the similarities between us,” Rahman said. “It’s unique that we’re starting here the same time. We’re not mainstream and we don’t mind stepping into new areas and ideas. We’re female clergy on an adventure.”

Sapsowitz is the first full-time resident rabbi on St. Croix, where the Jewish community has about a dozen active members and a lot of snowbirds. Arriving in in May she did a web search for information on the Unitarians on St. Croix and connected with Rahman, who in February had been a visiting minister for the Unitarians. Sapsowitz wanted to expand her awareness of who’s who on St. Croix before she moved here from Olympia, Wash. Prior to her arrival, the St. Croix congregation only had visiting rabbis during Jewish holidays, she said.

Rahman said she fell in love with St. Croix on her first visit, so she began looking into moving here permanently. She moved from Chicago to St. Croix Aug. 1 and started her ministry work visiting other congregations and meeting other clergy. She started giving services in October when the Unitarian Universalist season begins on St. Croix. Rahman will be formally installed as the new minister by UU dignitaries from the Boston headquarters on Dec. 9.

Both women have basically the same focus and goals for their leadership positions in their congregations.

Sapsowitz said she came to represent Judaism in the community at large and to do community outreach and development. She is a teacher of the faith, counselor, worship leader, pastoral caregiver, and a resource person.

“I want to help the Jewish community here to grow and strengthen,” Sapsowitz said. “We want to have more of a presence here.”

Rahman says she gives sermons, is a faith teacher, and gives pastoral care and counseling. Her goal is to be a visible presence to spread the word about the Unitarian faith and to see the congregation grow.

“People know we’re here,” Rahman says. “But I want to create a stronger presence and take the faith out to the larger community.”

She said looks forward to opportunities to be in the community, to grow and learn and expand the work of liberal religion on St. Croix.

Both women were happy to have connected at the time when they were entering new territory.

“I was thrilled to find a sister and kindred spirit here,” Sapsowitz says. “The email correspondence led me to a friend and colleague. As clergy we understand each other.”

“I was very happy to meet Marna,” Rahman says. “She has become a confidante, something pastors understand and have been trained in.”

In January the women will work together on a meet-and-greet for clergy through the Interfaith Coalition. And they have had conversations about a social justice project and moving towards doing more peace work.

Sapsowitz has master’s degrees in education and Hebrew letters, and is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College near Philadelphia, Pa. She became an ordained rabbi in 1989.

Rahman has a doctorate in Africana women’s studies and a master’s of divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She has been a Unitarian since 1992, ordained as a minister the same year. She also works full time at the Caribbean Kidney Center as a medical social worker.

The Jewish services are at the Jewish Community Center in Hermon Hill most Fridays beginning at 6:15. Sapsowitz says there are some services on Saturday mornings, but people should call 1-340-220-2945 ahead of time to see what is scheduled.

Sapsowitz says she has been told there has been a Jewish presence on St. Croix since the 1700s and the current congregation was established in the 1960s.

The UU Fellowship of St. Croix currently has about 20 members. It meets the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 10 a.m., from October through May at the synagogue in Hermon Hill. Services are led by members, friends, guest speakers and Rahman.

Small groups of religious liberals known as Unitarian Universalists have met on and off on St. Croix since the ’60s, but the current group was founded in 1986, incorporated in 1987, and admitted to membership in the national Unitarian Universalist Association that same year. It has met continuously for 28 years.

The UU aims and purposes are: To provide a fellowship for persons desiring freedom of religious thought; to strengthen one another in searching for truth and striving for a growing philosophy; to promote individual freedoms including thought, expression, the pursuit of happiness and social ministry; to further the democratic process in human relations and to serve the universal human family; and to strive for a world fellowship of peace.

“I think it’s great to have so many caring women here on St. Croix leading congregations,” Dolores Fielding, a Unitarian, said as she left services Sunday. “It’s neat that there’s a connection and relationship between the women leaders.”

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