Sister Sylvia Schmidt returns for Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry anniversary events
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, October 06, 2012
10/06/12 at 8:01 AM
Sister Sylvia Schmidt returned to Tulsa this week to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, an organization to which she gave 16 years of her life and which, coincidentally, was born in the same year she was.
A steady stream of visitors filed into a reception at the organization's offices Friday afternoon to wish Schmidt well, and she was the guest of honor at the ministry's sold-out anniversary dinner Thursday night at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame downtown.
Earlier Thursday, the woman who helped shape Tulsa's interfaith community and had the ear of local political and religious leaders reflected on her 33 years in Tulsa.
Schmidt moved here in 1967 to teach at Bishop Kelley High School after years of teaching in Texas, where she was born and raised.
In the early 1970s, when drug use exploded among young people, she opened a youth center in a house and held retreats to help students focus on what they wanted to do with their lives, she said.
Schmidt was named associate director of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry in 1984 and director in 1988.
The youngest of seven children, she retired to Texas in 2000 to be near family members as they faced end-of-life issues. Since then, her last four brothers, a brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law have died.
Schmidt also traveled the world during those years as part of her work on peace and justice issues.
"Tulsa is a very special place to me," she said. It's "a second home."
Early in her Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry career, Schmidt said, Catholic leaders were encouraging more interfaith dialogue, and Catholic and Protestant missionaries serving side by side on the mission field were recognizing the need to present a unified Christianity to "be a better witness to the world."
Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry was a catalyst in bringing together people of various faiths, she said.
The organization also was actively involved in social issues, including the growing problem of homelessness.
Once, Schmidt said, as she watched a homeless woman struggle through the snow wearing house shoes, she told herself: "We can do better than this. We're called to do better than this."
Under her leadership, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry created the Day Center for the Homeless and other ministries that have spun off as independent organizations. A generous gift from a local foundation made the day center possible.
"In Tulsa, I worked with some of the wealthiest, and most generous people on earth," Schmidt said.
She said Tulsa, more than any other city she has seen, has many people committed to social justice.
She said she holds traditional Catholic views on abortion and sexual ethics but disagrees with people who focus narrowly on those issues and ignore wider issues of justice.
"We condemn all sin, but justice is throughout the Bible," she said - "much more than sexual sin."
Allowing children to be hungry or abused or uncared for "is a greater sin in God's eyes," she said.
Schmidt said she is concerned about the rise of poverty and violence in society and the tendency of Americans to listen to sound bites and only those news sources that agree with their political position.
"We're becoming more divided," she said. "We need to sit down together and say, 'What do you really mean?' "
But she said she remains optimistic.
"I still have hope for the human race," she said. "My faith says God is still in charge."
Local faith leaders honored for service
Two longtime friends who have been pillars of the Tulsa interfaith community for three decades received lifetime achievement awards Thursday night at the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry's 75th anniversary celebration.
Recipients were the Rev. Mouzon Biggs of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church and Rabbi Charles Sherman of Temple Israel.
Both will retire in June.
Biggs has been the senior minister since 1980 at Boston Avenue, one of the country's largest and most influential United Methodist churches, with 8,000 members.
Sherman has been the rabbi since 1976 at Temple Israel, Tulsa's Reform Jewish congregation.
They have been meeting together for more than 20 years at monthly lunches with a downtown Tulsa ministers association.
Both have been president of what is now the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, and each gave the other's induction speech into the Tulsa Historical Society Hall of Fame.
Original Print Headline: Former leader helps fete Tulsa ministry
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Sister Sylvia Schmidt (left) talks about her experiences as a local religious leader with Nancy Hunt Wirth (center) and Jackie Longacre, both from the Disciples of Christ denomination, at the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry office Friday. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World
Sister Sylvia Schmidt, past executive director of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, is flanked Thursday night at the organization's 75th anniversary celebration by the Rev. Mouzon Biggs (left) of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church and Rabbi Charles Sherman of Temple Israel. BOB MCCORMACK/Courtesy