By Erika Webb
Don't let her diminutive stature fool you. Elizabeth "Janie" Owens takes care of business. That could be the reason she's been appointed pastor of the Colby Memorial Temple by the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp for the second time.
Ms. Owens was led to Cassadaga in 1980. She was in need of healing.
"I like to say I never left," Ms. Owens said.
A serious car accident left her devastated physically, mentally and emotionally. Her boyfriend "dumped" her and depression took over.
Her roommate was taking classes in Cassadaga and encouraged Ms. Owens to join her.
"I had taken some classes (in mediumship) in Orlando, but it was really Cassadaga that helped me heal," Ms. Owens said. "It started giving me a focus. When you're upset and emotional your mind is not exactly in control. It gave me a way to calm down."
The development classes she took refocused her outlook and altered her path. She moved to Cassadaga in 1981 and became a certified medium and ordained minister in 1985.
"I worked as a medium and minister, but not in the formal capacity of pastor," she said. "Then in '92 I became pastor of the church."
She remained in the position for four years.
In 2011 Ms. Owens became associate pastor and was elevated to interim pastor when the position was vacated in April. In June she was appointed pastor.
Asked if much has changed in the past two decades she said one aspect of the church has grown immensely: healing.
One of her many pastoral duties is arranging for healers to be present in the gazebo before church, as well as in the temple during the 10-minute meditation portion of the service. As the meditation is underway, those who feel the need for emotional or physical healing are invited to the back where they sit in front of a healer to receive a "laying on of hands."
Healings are for body, mind and spirit.
"The demand for healing has increased tremendously," Ms. Owens said. "I will have at least six healers on a Sunday and it's not really adequate. If I get 10, I'm really happy. People have much, much more need for spiritual healing and I find it incredible -- the amount of people who need this, are open to this and are seeking it."
She said lack of dogma is what attracts people to Cassadaga, and this time around she's noticing more new faces in the church.
"I would say society has broadened its consciousness to become more open and accepting," Ms. Owens said. "People continue to be turned off by churches that preach hell and damnation. Because we don't, they feel more comfortable here."
Spiritualism embraces all religions and Spiritualists believe people create their own heaven or hell as they obey or disobey nature's physical and spiritual laws. The highest morality is considered to be that which is contained in the Golden Rule: "Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye also unto them."
Ms. Owens, who was raised in the Methodist faith, "with a sprinkling of Baptist," said she was scared by her Baptist relatives, and therefore didn't claim any religion, went to church only on Christmas and Easter, until she discovered Cassadaga and a religion with which she was comfortable.
"Most religions are very judgmental. I feel like they put people in categories," she said. "You're good if you go to church and give money, you're bad if you don't. The judgmental part turns me off. We try to be good to people who come and we appreciate them. We don't beat them over the head."
Two misconceptions remain prevalent, Ms. Owens said.
"One thing that gets me is when people say you worship the devil. We don't even believe in the devil," she explained. "Another misunderstanding is the tendency to think we're witches. We aren't witches. Wicca is a religion and Spiritualism is a religion. The two aren't connected."
The aspect of Spiritualism that seems to intrigue followers, and incite nonbelievers, is the belief "in communicating with the other side of life."
"There is no death; there are no dead," Ms. Owens said. "Communicating with people who have crossed over, whether spirit guides, relatives, angels ... whatever ... we feel we are able to elevate our existence and receive guidance."
People feel drawn to the internationally known community, which was established in 1894 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"They're inspired to come and it's really interesting, the different ways they get here," Ms. Owens said.
Often pain is the vehicle that delivers visitors to Cassadaga -- the loss of a loved one.
"They come seeking answers, perhaps through our message service," she said. "They receive an answer in a message or emotional comfort, and that is a healing itself. There's nothing worse than to be grieving."
Illness is another impetus.
"Both are really seeking healing when you think about it. They must be recognizing this as a healing center because they sure are coming," Ms. Owens said.
Over the years Ms. Owens has written eight books and two booklets -- all available in the Cassadaga Bookstore. She is under contract with Llewellyn Worldwide, the world's oldest and largest independent publisher of metaphysical and new age books, for another: "Paths to Mediumship."
"I'm interviewing mediums in the camp and throughout the U.S.," she said. "It's interesting finding out what brought them to Cassadaga as well."
Getting a book published, these days, demands nothing shy of intense perseverance. Writing one takes dedication, discipline and organizational skills, not to mention creativity. The people she's interviewing have to be comfortable enough to share freely, giving the book a reason to be read. Ms. Owens is a good listener and a captivating speaker. She's simultaneously compassionate and practical.
Those characteristics likely made her a shoe-in for the monumental task of overseeing a church.
Additionally, Ms. Owens has boundless energy, more than enough for the here -- and hereafter.