Terri Omori, a lifelong Shin Buddhist with deep ties to the San Diego and Vista temples, will become the first woman BCA President — a major milestone in the Buddhist organization’s 123-year history.
The formal appointment will be made March 13, after the Eitaikyo Service at the BCA’s National Council Meeting. The NCM, which will be virtual, is being hosted this year by the Central California District.
“I’m very humbled and honored to be given this opportunity,” she said. “When I said yes, it was out of gratitude. It was just the result of the deeper appreciation that I had growing up, and of all the years that I have been able to have the Dharma as part of my life. And, it was also recognizing all those who have come before me.
“It’s an honor, a true honor,” she said. “And I hope that during my term that I can continue to make the Dharma accessible for all.”
Omori’s history with the BCA extends to include her Nisei parents, Ben and Miki Honda, her Issei grandparents and Honda family members — as well as her husband Ford Omori’s parents and grandparents.
Growing up in San Diego and attending the Buddhist Temple of San Diego, she attended Sunday services and Dharma School, eventually becoming an assistant Dharma School teacher helping in her mother’s class, participated in Obon as well as other temple events, joined the Jr. YBA, the Sr. YBA, and then taiko group and served as the temple’s organist.
A turning point
A pivotal event occurred when she married Ford Omori in 1989 and moved to Vista. The Vista Buddhist Temple building had just been dedicated in 1987.
“After Ford and I got married, it was just natural for me to join the Vista temple and I got involved right away,” she said, recalling that she and Ford would bring his Bachan (grandmother) to services.
Since Omori had been the temple organist in San Diego, Vista’s Resident Minister Rev. Art Takemoto, asked her if she would play the organ at Vista and she agreed.
“So, I started playing with the other musician, and I started seeing that there were one or two children, really young, coming to services,” she said. “There was no Dharma School at the time. So I asked the parents, ‘You want me to take the children downstairs and I’ll teach them some Dharma School gathas?’ And, they said, ‘Yes.’ So I started doing that.”
One thing led to another commitment and further involvement. Terri and Ford Omori assisted the Jr. YBA, and she also joined her husband in the Vista taiko group.
When the Omoris began having their own family in the early 1990s – first, daughter Katie and then, son Kurtis – along with other families, the Dharma School got off the ground and it became part of the Southern District Dharma School Teachers League. As the temple babies were growing up, Omori helped initiate a Jr. Taiko group and the Jr. YBA for the high schoolers.
Terri Omori has remained an active Dharma School teacher beyond her own children’s graduation from high school — and was honored last year with 25 years of service by the Federation of Dharma School Teachers League (FDSTL).
In 2007, Terri Omori was selected as the Vista Buddhist Temple President, where, to this day, she remains the first and only woman to hold that title. She would continue in that leadership role for the next three years.
Oversaw Vista changes
During her tenure, she, Ford Omori and Vista board member (and current Vista President) Ricky Schlesinger and other Sangha members took major steps to come up with a plan to address its declining membership and grow the Sangha.
Their efforts have been nothing short of exceptional. Since then, Vista has more than doubled its paid membership to about 115 paid members and its story has become a successful template for other BCA temples and churches to follow on how to grow its Sangha. (See “Vista Is Singled Out for Its Membership Growth” in the February 2022 issue of the Wheel of Dharma.)
As Vista President, Omori’s involvement expanded into the BCA. She began attending the National Council meetings. In 2014, she became the Southern District Council Chair-elect, and was one of its representatives to the National Board.
She was elected as a BCA Director-at-Large, and was automatically made a member of the Social Welfare Committee. She also volunteered to be on the Membership and Propagation Committee because membership issues remain a key concern to her. And she served on a BCA ad hoc committee in charge of the 10th anniversary of the Jodo Shinshu Center in Berkeley, California, in 2016.
In 2017, rumors began swirling around the BCA about Omori and her possibly running for the BCA presidency. Rick Stambul, who was BCA President-elect at the time, proved to be an influential and significant figure who ultimately would succeed — with the help of others — in convincing Omori.
But when Stambul first asked Omori if she’d consider becoming BCA President in 2017, her answer was quick — “No.”
She explained: “I truly felt I wasn’t qualified to be the BCA President, and that was my main reason for saying ‘No’ the first time he asked me.”
And when Stambul approached Omori again, she replied: “No.”
Circumstances changed when Stambul became BCA President in 2018. He once again approached Omori, and after considerable discussion and thought, she agreed to serve on the Executive Committee.