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Diana Porras Owings: Imagining What Is Possible

written by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Connecting Voices Editor

     We belong to a church of immigrants…a significant, perhaps even staggering percentage of us migrated to the United Church of Christ (UCC) from here, there and yonder, in search of a more fulfilling faith.   

     Diana Porras Owings, recently honored as one of the UCC Southern California Nevada Conference’s “Distinguished Laywomen,” is no exception.  Her mother was raised in the Russian Molokan religion, an almost Mennonite-like group formed in rebellious response to the Russian Orthodox Church; her father was Mexican-American, one of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo footballers killed when their plane went down in 1960.  When the old C-46, a leftover from WWII, crashed at Toledo Express Airport on Oct. 29, it was the first such tragedy involving a U.S. sports team.

     “One positive thing resulted,” Diana recalls, “the Mercy Bowl, a game held at the Los Angeles Coliseum the following year.  An educational fund for the victims’ families was established with the proceeds.  That’s how my sisters and I were able to go to college.”

     Growing up in a barrio – “a rough neighborhood,” where she was “surrounded by women” (her mother and three sisters), she learned to pitch in, to do whatever was needed and to survive without getting caught up in gangs and drugs.

     Taking good advantage of her college fund, she was a Political Science major at Vassar and UC Berkeley, with a dream of becoming a teacher.  Finishing grad school, she took a temporary job keying in income tax returns for the Franchise Tax Board, a 9-month assignment that coincided nicely with her Air Force husband’s scheduled departure from the service and their planned move to Southern California.  The job “travelled with me,” she reports, “and somehow I never became a teacher.  I worked in Audit Division Management for over 20 years, overseeing the audits of major corporations – a challenging job and one which provided a good living when my marriage ended.”

     After her divorce, she felt a strong need for a good support system for herself and her 10-year-old identical twin daughters, Megan and Jennifer.  An ad for Claremont UCC  in the phone book’s yellow pages caught her attention with its emphasis on inclusiveness.  Calling the church, she found herself talking with Associate Pastor Joyce Kirk Moore (now Senior Pastor at San Dimas Community Church, UCC), who welcomed her warmly and quickly became a friend.  “She got me involved in youth activities, the church council and the finance committee.”

     During this time, too, Diana and the girls first became involved with the residents of Pilgrim Place, a senior community for those serving in religious or charitable organizations.   “It was a transforming experience,” she says.  “I saw how vital and active seniors can be.”  She now serves as Chair of their Board of Directors.

     New roles in the Eastern Association and the Conference followed, positions to which she brings her considerable administrative and communication skills.  Among them have been Moderator for the Association and service on the Conference Ministry Team, Diversity Development Team and Annual Gathering Committee for the Conference.  Outside activities  – CFO of Rogue Artists Ensemble, a Non Profit Theater Co. and volunteer teaching assistant in a Head Start Program – add interest to her resume.

     Diana, who joined Diamond Bar UCC in 2002, married attorney Robert H. Schorman in 2009.  She continues her active church role in retirement.  “I get so much more than I can ever give,” she says, “new challenges, growth as a person, new perspective, personal confidence, the love of a community.  Being able to make a difference is especially gratifying.  My faith has grown immensely.  It’s easy to be negative when you follow the news but when you are doing for others you get a sense of the possibilities, of God’s grace.”

     Asked what advice she would give those who would like to move from “pew sitter” to active involvement in a church – but doubt their abilities, she said, “Have faith in your unique voice.  Know that you have something to contribute.  Look for opportunities that fit your interests and abilities and follow your heart.  You’ll get a better fit that way.  Try it out, see if it works.  It’s okay if it doesn’t.  And, as your involvement grows, set boundaries.  Balance your responsibilities, say no when you should.”

     Very important, she adds, is to get ideas on the table.  “Don’t be reluctant to consider new – even off-the-wall – ideas.  Be open to viewpoints different from your own.  For example, I have an accountant’s point of view, bring an analytical approach to discussions, think in terms of how things operate.  But there are many other ways of looking at situations.  Seek diverse viewpoints; realize you don’t have all the answers.”

     This openness will, she believes, be vital in the church to come.  “We are entering a period of great change, change in which we as a church must be open to the possibilities, must not insist on or retreat into the comfort of familiar rituals and routines.  As the church evolves – perhaps even into cyberspace, we must recognize that the church is not “this music” or “that service” or even “that building” and that whatever form it takes God is still present.”

     Leading edge technology, Diana suggests, points the way to the future, to reaching those whose “communities” are Facebook, Twitter and the like, whose activities are virtual reality games.  She has a special awareness of the possibilities:  Megan and Jennifer both work for Blizzard Entertainment, a subdivision of Activision , maker of console video games.  Among Blizzard’s products are MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer On-Line Role Player Games) virtual reality games – currently played by 14 million people. 

     “It’s a whole new way of operating in community,” she comments, “one which gives us a glimpse of where the world is headed.  We must be open to it.”

     Thrilled by her award, she comments that the body of work for which she received the Distinguished Laywoman Award is “the result of being around a long time.  I am proud of my work and the opportunities it has given me.”

     In nominating Diana, Rev. Jeanne Favreau-Sorvillos (Pastor, Diamond Bar UCC), noted that  “Diana doesn’t just imagine what’s possible.  She is a willing and committed participant in leading others in the process of creating a better world.”

     Pretty well says it all!

     Congratulations, Diana, on your well-deserved honor.

look for introductions to our two other Distinguished Lay Women, Michico Reyes and Janet Vandevnder in the near future!

The annoucnement of the Southern California Nevada Conference’s Distinguished Lay Women was included in Connections from Felix on November 19, 2011:

“Congratulations to the following three outstanding leaders who were selected for the UCC 2011 Distinguish Lay Woman Award:  Michiko Manacop-Reyes (Filipino-American, UCC), Diana Owings (Diamond Bar, UCC) and Janet Vandevender (Claremont, UCC). They will represent our Conference and will be honored at the 2011 UCC Synod in Tampa, Fl.  This Conference is blessed to have so many gifted leaders and the selection process was not easy as we received various nominations, all worthy to be selected.  Each nominee will be honored at Annual Gathering scheduled for June 3-4, 2011. Photos and a summary of their achievements will be posted on our website in the near future. Again, thank you to all the nominees for you contribution to our Conference. You are a blessing to all of us!”

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