As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, Rev. Beth Marshall grew up in small lay-led congregations. It was a surprise when ministry appeared as a potential vocation on aptitude tests in high school and college, and she dismissed it as an anomaly because she didn’t know Unitarian Universalist ministers existed. Years later, as a member of a large UU congregation with multiple ministers, she understood how ministry could be a part of her life.
The first semesters of seminary were at John Carroll University, in Shaker Hts., OH. With a brief detour through Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, she completed her theological work at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.
Since ordination in 2003, she has served First Universalist Church in Southold, NY; the UU Church of Blanchard Valley in Findlay, OH; First Unitarian Church in Toledo, Ohio; The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie, in Erie, PA; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Canton, in Canton, OH. Recently, she has served as a “temporary, targeted” minister for First Unitarian Church in Cleveland, OH; and the UU Congregation of Grand Traverse, in Traverse City, MI.
Her theological orientation is unabashedly secular humanist. Over the course of a liturgical year, she draws upon modern works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and science, as well as ancient texts from all the faith traditions.
Almost two decades of parish ministry have her reflecting on a series of questions:
- How can we better articulate and define our faith in positive terms?
- How might our efforts serve to heal our small corner of the world?
- How might we become more understanding and tolerant of those whose beliefs differ radically from our own – in part by better understanding ourselves?
- And, possibly most importantly, where is our common ground, and how can we build upon it?
Titles of programs/sermons and a brief statement of content on each:
Rev. Marshall has a full list of sermons that can be adapted to a congregation’s individual needs, celebrations and worship themes. Below is a sampling of what might be possible.
- The Boldness Within: A Visit with Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell , Minister Emerita of the All Souls Church in Elizabeth, NJ, and Oberlin Collegiate Institute graduate of 1850, was ordained 168 years ago by a small congregation in South Butler, NY. As a Unitarian minister, she devoted herself to spreading a message of hope and love. Her work focused on reducing the effects of poverty and addiction, and securing the right to vote for women. Her story is one of persistence in the face of overwhelming obstacles and challenges in a time when a woman’s presence was not always appreciated or accepted in the public realm.
Drawn from primary and secondary sources, this presentation is a lively, first-person historical experience. (This service requires the assistance of a strong male reader. What little rehearsal time is needed can be done prior to the service.)
- Broken to Blessed. As adults, our lives are often marked by significant losses that transform us. While I would never go as far as to say we are better for those broken places, many writers, far wiser than I, believe that because of those places where we have been broken and tested, we emerge kinder, more compassionate, more forgiving, thoughtful and even stronger. It doesn’t always work that way, but perhaps there is wisdom in acknowledging that our lives can be understood as a series of losses. Part of our task as people of faith is to pick up those broken pieces and re-envision what might be possible by putting them back together. Life will never be as it was before, that is a given, but in time, we may gain wisdom enough to see a different kind of beauty.
- The Courage to Rise. Easter is quite possibly the most complicated Sunday on our liturgical calendar. This sermon celebrates our spirits come back to life, through three different perspectives. It honors those who celebrate Easter though the lens of Jesus’ resurrection, those who celebrate Easter as a nature-based holiday with stories of the earth cycling back to life, and those who recognize the power of the human heart to overcome the most difficult times in our lives. Three different orientations, one congregation on Easter Sunday.
- Embracing the Exile. At a time when marginalized individuals are at greater risk than ever before, some of us are asking ourselves what can we do? This service is in part inspired by the haunting questions asked by Ysaye M. Barnwell in her song, “Would You Harbor Me?”
Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim or Jew, a heretic, convict or spy?
Would you harbor a run-away woman or child, a poet, a prophet or king?
Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee, a person living with AIDS? ....
Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?
- Life on the Margins. This sermon lifts up the work Father Gregory Boyle, who serves the Delores Mission Church in Los Angeles, CA. The service highlights some of the gang-intervention work that his congregation has embraced as their mission, anchoring it back to how it applies to Unitarian Universalists. Father Boyle is the embodiment of the compassionate work that many of us only dream of doing, while his storytelling skills weave together a narrative with profound implications for the rest of us.
- Voices of Wisdom. Because we live in a complex, pluralistic world, we are called to explore the world’s traditions, finding those threads of common ground that help us learn more about ourselves and our shared world. For ours, is an active faith.
This service includes wisdom and inspiration from Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. In his book, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings, Richard Hooper offers these thoughts: “Even though these teachers represent four different world religions, I believe their teachings have a great deal in common. Could it be that their teachings represent four slightly different paths to the same destination? If the words of certain teachers move us, and if we are to examine our thoughts while reading them, what often strikes us most is not that these teachers are telling us something new, but that they are reminding us of something that we already knew, but perhaps, had forgotten.”
(This service requires the participation of four additional readers, one for each of the four faith traditions.)
Availability: Fall, Winter and Spring, and preferably within 200 miles of Oberlin, Ohio. Overnight hospitality might be welcomed depending on the distance. Zoom is always an option.
Fee arrangements: According to UUMA guidelines.
Contact: Email Rev. Beth Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org