Rochester reverend appointed to direct religious life at UR

Courtesy of Denise Yarbrough

Reverend Denise Yarbrough was recently appointed to the position of director of religious and spiritual Life at UR. An Episcopal priest who has been living in the area for nine years, Yarbrough has dedicated her time to promoting interfaith dialogue.

As someone who wants to promote and celebrate all religions and discover worship through study, Yarbrough sees her new position as a way to “build bridges across religious divides.” The diversity at UR gives students the chance to build relationships with those that are not like them, she said.

When Yarbrough was working on her doctorate at the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, she wrote her thesis on the idea that when Christians are educated on other world traditions and religions, instead of feeling threatened, they learn to take pride in their own religion. After finding that many people took interest in this topic, Yarbrough decided to spend more of her time doing interfaith work. She believes that “what civil rights was to the 60s, religious discussion and understanding is to our current issues today.” A firm believer in interfaith ideas of acceptance, understanding and study, she finds that this is increasingly a relevant topic in today’s discussions. At UR, she hopes to ingrain those ideas and this culture of discussion of religion.

While Yarbrough hopes to involve the community, her immediate plans are all about involving students in events at the Interfaith Chapel. “Scriptural Reasoning” is a program that will be held on Nov. 7 that focuses on Abrahamic scripture study at the Interfaith Chapel. This event is a program where the three Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam and Judaism — are invited to come together and discuss how they interpret their scriptures and learn from one another. Students are encouraged to join a dialogue to better understand the religions that are different from their own. This unique program will help facilitate a conversation among these religious groups and aims to elicit a new understanding and spiritual growth, according to Yarbrough.

Yarbrough will also become one of the professors in the Religion and Classics Department at UR and says she “loves teaching and being engaged in education” and that everything she does is about education.

She hopes that these two roles will help her interact with the students in a way that will make them more well-rounded. Because the education that can occur in the Interfaith Chapel does not involve evaluation, the stress dissipates: There is only learning for the sake of learning.

But what Yarbrough most hopes students learn from her is that students going to the Interfaith Chapel “are not thinking that crossing Wilson Boulevard is the same as the Mongolian border” but rather that it is a place where they can feel comfortable and included.

Konowitch is a member of the class of 2016.



You can contact Rachel at rkonowti@u.rochester.edu.

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