The Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell, an accomplished Unitarian Universalist minister, is known for her dynamic speaking, writing, teaching, and her justice work. She is also an Adjunct Fellow at the Attic Institute, a literary think tank and visual arts studio in Portland, Oregon that is a haven for writers and artists. She is frequently sought out by the media for interviews on current issues of social or spiritual import.
Her life journey itself has been an amazing one and is beautifully rendered in the new award-winning documentary film, Raw Faith. Marilyn grew up in a small town in North Louisiana with her father, her younger brother and sister, and her grandparents. She left the Catholic Church, the faith of the mother she lost, and became a Southern Baptist, the religion of her grandparents. Marilyn distinguished herself in her studies in college, and then attempted to find meaning through the conventional role for women of the day, marrying a surgeon and becoming the mother of two sons. She left the marriage when the boys were toddlers. She felt unaccepted at this time by the Southern Baptists, and so she sought out Unitarian Universalism, a liberal religious faith.
Her refuge was learning: she holds master’s degrees in English literature, social work, and divinity, and a PhD in Theology and Literature from the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California at Berkeley.
After careers as an English teacher, a clinical social worker, and a TV on-the-air personality giving advice — not to mention “single mom” — she went to seminary and brought her work experience together as the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland Oregon. There she served with distinction for 17 years, during which time the church grew to be one of the largest UU churches in the nation. Also during those years, she received numerous awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate for her justice work from Meadville Lombard Seminary in Chicago. Marilyn retired in 2009, was named Minister Emerita, and a social justice lecture was established in her honor. She serves on the Board and the Executive Committee of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and is on the Workers’ Rights Board of Jobs with Justice.
Marilyn has published articles and books throughout her career. She is the editor of two celebrated collections of women’s poetry focusing on the spiritual, the award-winning Cries of the Spirit, 1991, and a companion volume, Claiming the Spirit Within, 1996, both of which are still in print and still selling. Breaking Free: Women of Spirit at Midlife and Beyond (2004) is a collection of powerful essays by women reflecting on the spiritual growth in the second half of their lives. Marilyn’s has written two companion volumes, A Little Book on Forgiveness (2008) and A Little Book on Prayer (2009), and a book of quotations from her sermons, A Little Book of Reflections (2011). Her newest book is a memoir, Raw Faith: Following the Thread, which serves as the back story to the film Raw Faith, a documentary film based on her life and work. Marilyn is frequently quoted by other speakers and writers and in various publications over a broad spectrum of social and spiritual issues. She currently contributes regularly to Huffington Post. She is one of the poetry editors for the Harvard Divinity Bulletin.
Marilyn’s two sons, Kash and Madison, both live in Kentucky. Kash and his wife Victoria have one son, Kash IV, and Madison, who is still single, looks forward to a family of his own one day. Marilyn keeps in touch with them by phone and by visiting whenever possible.
A surprising and wonderful change came in Marilyn’s life when she met architect George Crandall and was married, after being single for over 30 years. George and Marilyn live on the Willamette River in Portland. She continues to speak in various venues, and continues to write. Her justice work is focused on climate change, an issue about which she is passionately concerned. Her desire is to always be open to her next call — i.e., whatever way she might bring more love and healing into our world.