The Rev. Marcia Welsh Schekel died on May 18, 2017 at the age of 70.
Marcia Welsh was born on June 4, 1946 in Marion, OH to parents Joe and Margaret Welsh. She and her two younger brothers grew up in Dayton, OH until Marcia was 13, when the family moved to Boulder, CO. Marcia attended Colorado State University, graduating in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Marcia met Kurt Schekel while they were both at CSU, and they married upon Marcia’s graduation. She later attained a Master of Arts in Adult and Continuing Education from Washington State University in 1978, as well as a Master of Arts in Applied Theology from Marylhurst University in 2004.
Rev. Schekel was ordained by the First Unitarian Church of Portland on April 15, 2007. Prior to her ordination, Marcia’s commitment to serving in the wider community was evident. She joined the staff at WSU after earning her Master’s degree—first as the university’s Director of Women’s programs (1978 – 1983) and then as its Continuing Education Manager (1983 – 1998). Though raised Roman Catholic, in adulthood Marcia felt drawn toward a more liberal/feminist theology; she became active in the Methodist church, volunteering as a religious educator for 14 years. In 1983 she also began working for Elderhostel (now Road Scholar); it was there that Marcia found her “models for aging,” seeing firsthand that “wonder and awe are possible in the later years.” Eventually, in 1998, Elderhostel offered Marcia a job in Portland, OR—just two days after her son Matt was killed in a bicycle accident there. Marcia found herself spiritually seeking once again, and in 2000 she joined the First Unitarian Church of Portland. She began training as a hospice volunteer, learning how to be with the dying, to facilitate bereavement groups, and to offer support for those living with AIDS. Soon she embraced what she understood to be her calling: chaplaincy work with hospice. Marcia became a hospice chaplain at Providence Home and Community Services in 2004, and was quickly recognized for the gifts she shared with those to whom she ministered: her warm availability, her quiet strength, and her profound well of compassion. Once ordained, Rev. Schekel deepened her community ministry and continued her chaplaincy as her congregation’s affiliated minister until her retirement in 2013.
Outside of her ministry, Rev. Schekel held several volunteer positions at her Portland congregation. She served as a teacher for the Spiritual Growth for Adults Program beginning in 2002, as a member of the Senior Minister’s Ministerial Relations committee beginning in 2003, as a Lay Ministry trainer from 2004 to 2006, and as volunteer staff for the Pacific Northwest Area General Meeting in 2005.
In her spare time, Marcia and Kurt loved to explore the beautiful Northwest. Going on walks, growing a large garden, and watching the birds were a treasured pastime. She also greatly enjoyed reading—poetry, essays, fiction, and nonfiction. And Marcia took spiritual nourishment from praying, meditating, and doing yoga; as well as from her beloved family and friends, new and old.
While pursuing her calling, Rev. Schekel offered this lovely reflection on her vital ministry:
As a staff chaplain to patients and their families, I meet people where they are. I enter into their experience with curiosity and acceptance for their path and what gives life meaning. My role is to listen without judging, evoke without forcing, and understand without condescending… It gives me joy! I quote Buddhist writer Pema Chödrön when I say, “How did I get so lucky to have my heart awakened to others and their suffering?”
She is survived by husband Kurt, son Zachary (Tiffany), brother Mike (Cathy), and four grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to First Unitarian Church, 1211 SW Main St, Portland, OR 97205; to the Matt Schekel Memorial Scholarship Fund at Seeds of Learning; and to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
A memorial service took place at 1pm on Monday, May 29, 2017 at the First Unitarian Church of Portland.
Notes of condolence can be sent to Kurt Schekel at 12400 SE 15th St, Vancouver, WA 98683.