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In Memory . . . Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley (1949-2006)

Posted By Jessica Cambio, Thursday, May 13, 2010
Marjorie Rebekah Bowens was born on August 6, 1949, the fourth of 10 children born to the former Bernice Loretta Wheatley and Daniel Lee Bowens. She spent most of her childhood in Philadelphia, the place of her birth; but was acculturated in the ways of the south and the Caribbean through the heritage of her parents.

She graduated from Dobbins Vocational-Technical School in 1967, having majored in Business Education. For the next few years, she worked as a legal and medical secretary. In 1969, she married Alfred Edmonds and from this union, Tonya was born. The couple divorced in 1973. 

A bit of a late bloomer, Marjorie began her college career at Temple University at the age of 25, double majoring in Radio, Television & Film and Pan-African Studies. She continued graduate studies at the American University where she earned a Master of Arts degree in International Development and Visual Media.

Marjorie's career in public television began with a production internship with a weekly program, "Black Perspective on the News," and continued with a nightly news and issue analysis program, "Evening Exchange." In addition to being nominated for an Emmy Award for a program she produced with writer Maya Angelou, Marjorie received the World Hunger Media Award for her hour-long documentary, "After the Rains," which explored drought and environmental decay across the Sahara desert.

After seven years in the media, and after joining All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., Marjorie felt a calling to work full time in a way that expressed her religious values. She moved to Boston to work as Director of Public Affairs for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. A year later she accepted a position as program officer for the Veatch Program at what is now the Unitarian Universalist Society in Shelter Rock in Manhasset, Long Island. During her three-year tenure there, she was responsible for recommending approximately one million dollars per year to fund organizations working for progressive social change.

Her work at the Service Committee and at the Veatch Program, accompanied by independent study on the theology and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman, ultimately led Marjorie to understand her own calling to ministry. In the fall of 1991, she entered Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC and in 1994, she was awarded a Master of Divinity degree (cum laude), and was ordained in Washington, DC, in December 1994 at her home congregation, All Souls Church Unitarian. 

Marjorie became Affiliate, then Associate, Minister at the Community Church of New York City in 1994 and also served as District Extension Minister for the Metro New York District and Field Consultant for the UUA Department of Faith in Action. These assignments continued until she accepted a position as Co-Interim Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin Texas in 1999, which she served along with her husband, the Reverend Clyde Grubbs. 

In 2000, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley joined the UUA staff as Adult Programs Director in the Religious Education department. In 2003, she accepted the call to the UU Church of Tampa, Florida, which she served through 2006. She had accepted a call to serve as Associate Minister of First Unitarian Church of San Diego, California, but withdrew because of illness.

Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley's imprint on Unitarian Universalism is significant and has helped shape contemporary Unitarian Universalist Association programs and practices in major ways. Please see the fuller and more detailed story of Marjorie's life and contributions on the forthcoming story to be posted on the UUA website. 

Following a short struggle with gallbladder cancer, Marjorie died quietly at her sister's home in Vineland, NJ, on Dec. 10, 2006, with her daughter, husband and close friends by her side. She is survived by her daughter, Tonya/Talibah Edmonds; her husband, the Rev. Clyde Grubbs; her mother, Bernice; nine siblings, a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and colleagues. 

A service to celebrate the life and spirit of Marjorie will be held at The Community Church of New York in January. More information will be shared soon. 

Messages of remembrance may be sent to:

The Reverend Clyde Grubbs
c/o Throop Memorial Church
300 Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101-2821

Ms. Tonya "Talibah" Edmonds
c/o Sarah Lawrence College
1 Mead Way
Bronxville, New York 10708

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