One of the first things I did as a new religious educator in the mid-1980s was to get in contact with those who had been doing the work for years and had much to share. I lived for monthly meetings of the Mass Bay Religious Education Team. I would come home brim full of ideas, enthusiasm, and love for the profession. And for the professionals who so graciously shared what they knew with newbies like me.
One of my fondest memories is of Rev. Barbara Marshman of Follen Community Church in Lexington, MA. She was already well known in the UU world, part of the mighty triumvirate of curriculum writers known as Brotman Marshfield (Charlene Brotman, Barbara Marshman, and Ann Fields). She was creative, artistic, dedicated, and so very willing to share the resources she spent hours creating for the children at Follen. She was a genius at taking the old UU curriculum kits, written with no specific religious content, and combining them with other resources to breathe life, and interest, and Unitarian Universalist connections into them. She took great interest in what was happening in our field and paid respectful attention to the ideas and contributions of a fledgling religious educator, like me.
One of the deepest memories I have of Barbara is after she retired from her position at Follen. Our RE Team needed a place to hold its monthly meetings, a congregation willing to host two or three dozen religious educators. Barbara Marshman was more than willing to host us, putting on her pretty apron and setting out coffee and treats for our meetings. She so believed in nurturing the next generation of religious educators that she gave her time so that our meetings could run smoothly. I am as grateful for that gift as for any of the others she brought. She taught me that sometimes the most important thing you can do is to facilitate the work that others are doing. She modeled being a gracious elder in our profession.
After Barbara died, her family decided to honor her by establishing a scholarship fund for continuing education for UU religious educators. The Marshman Fund was joined with the Ann B. Fields Fund and offers scholarships to this day.
I am at a time in my professional life when I look back and marvel at the people who have influenced me along the way, and at the substantial legacy they have left. Here is an excerpt from “Bridges, 1949,” a poem Barbara wrote. We who gathered read this at her memorial service:
Oh, God, if life is just a bridge from darkness to darkness
Then let me, with confidence build a firm one;
But please Dear God, let it be a shining one,
A lovely thing to see!
Barbara’s bridge was indeed a shining one, and I am grateful for her mentorship and example. If you are a religious educator engaged in graduate study, please do apply for a scholarship. Take good advantage of a beautiful legacy gift!
The deadline to apply for a Marshman and Fields scholarship is May 1. Please email Rev. Sarah Gettie McNeill, UUA Professional Development Programs Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, to apply.
Each year, a religious education elder is invited to share their "odyssey" with colleagues at a Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) gathering. Read and be inspired by Barbara A. Marshman's Odyssey (1984) and Ann Boutwell Fields' Odyssey (1990).
Some of Marshman’s work is incorporated in Tapestry of Faith curricula and published on the UUA Worship Web. Check out the well-loved story, “What if Nobody Forgave?” and her artwork, body prayer postures silhouettes, in the children's curriculum, Windows and Mirrors.
Marshman’s personal papers are being catalogued at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. If you would like to know more about that collection, please contact archivist John Leeker, email@example.com.