top of page

Interview with Rev. Melissa Opel

















When were you introduced to Jodo Shin Buddhism and what has your experience been?


I was having a life struggle and it was recommended to me to give Buddhism a try. I had left the Evangelical church about ten years prior and was not apt to get reinvolved in organized religion. The Spokane Temple was having an open house and it gave us the opportunity to talk with the Sangha and see the space before coming to a service. It was a great first introduction. My wife and I went back the following Sunday and I had a really emotional response to the chanting. I think that was about nine or ten years ago now. 


My experience in Jodo Shinshu has been wonderful. I have received so much support, training and guidance from both the BCA and SBT. My wife and I came during a time that SBT was going through a big transition and we really just wanted to be a part of the community and to participate however we could. The transparency in leadership and ability to field all of our questions was handled in a way that made us feel like it was a safe space. Given the way in which we left Christianity, we were dealing with a lot of hurt so these were just essential needs for us to feel safe and welcomed. Jodo Shinshu and the writings of Shinran Shonin told us we were accepted just as we were and the temple and national organization reinforced that through actions- not just words. 


That sounds like a really moving experience. What was your ministerial training at IBS like? How do you feel your education has prepared you for this moment?


I've have really enjoyed my training at IBS. Originally, my plan had been to complete the Shin certificate and obtain my Tokudo ordination and Kyoshi certification. I was going to stay working full time and serve SBT as best as I could. When I lost my job of ten years, it gave me space to re-evaluate my goals and realized I had an aspiration to serve the BCA in a full-time capacity. So, my wife and I drove to Seattle and met with Rev. Kusunoki, my supervising minister, and expressed this interest with him. He encouraged me to move into the Master of Divinity program and work towards the requirements needed to serve in the BCA. 


Being able to work through the Collected Writings of Shinran with ministers and scholars has been invaluable and given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for Jodo Shinshu. Adding chaplaincy classes has made me feel more prepared for this new role as well. Last year I was able to take a class on trauma which was highly impactful and gave a deeper perspective on how trauma affects a person and a family in both the short term and long term. I feel like all of these classes not only build skill sets but allow me to start asking big questions about how best to serve our temples and how to keep our teaching's relevant for people today and not medieval Japan. 


What are you most nervous and/or excited about?


In terms of nervousness, I think going from a small temple to a large temple will take some getting used to as well as just learning the everyday rhythm of being a full time minister. 


In terms of excitement- I'm looking forward to being able to focus solely on being a minister and all that comes with it. In Spokane, I feel pulled in many, many directions and although I know I will be busy, it will be nice to dedicate more space to growing as a minister and serving my new community and not squeezing it in after 40-hours  of work in finance. 


That makes sense. What makes you a unique minister?


I think every minister is unique as we are all shaped by our experiences and we can only see the world through the way in which our lens has developed. My lens has developed through experiences of growing up in low-income housing, being the first in my family to attend college as well as identifying as a member of the lgbtq+ community. Additionally, I was raised Catholic and later served in the Evangelical church (foursquare specifically) and that has given me a very different view of the world and the ways in which religion can be very harmful if we don't put caring for people first and foremost. I've had a lot of unique life experiences and my hope is that I can share what I've learned to help others suffer less. 

bottom of page