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In Memory... Paul W. Sawyer (1934 - 2010)

Posted By Jessica Cambio, Thursday, September 30, 2010

PAUL W. SAWYER (1934 - 2010)


It is with a sense of loss that the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group informs you of the death of the Reverend Paul W. Sawyer.  He died on June 23, 2010, at home in Pasadena, CA.  His death was peaceful and his wife, Susan, was beside him.  Rev. Sawyer was 75 years old.


Born on June 27, 1934, in Lynn, Massachusetts, to Alan F. and Ruth E. Anthony Sawyer, Rev. Sawyer graduated from Philips Andover Academy in 1953, Harvard in 1955, and Starr King School for the Ministry in 1958.  His first church was in Van Nuys, CA.  While there he led the effort to build a new sanctuary.  He enlisted the UU architect, Frank Ehrenthal, and the result was "the onion,” a distinctive bulbous-shaped building erected in North Hills, CA, for the Sepulveda UU Society.


In 1967 he began what he called "a unique, self-organized, continent-wide teaching and preaching, community organizing ministry.”  In Seattle, he led the Free University and was involved with a group that published a weekly underground newspaper, The Helix, and established an annual art festival (the Bumbershoot festival) still held today.  In 1969, he joined the faculty of Starr King School where he taught UU history as well as American and Chinese cultural studies.  This affiliation continued for more than 20 years.  He offered seminars and workshops throughout the country on arts and religion, worship and ritual, and poetry; and he worked as a street minister for the Berkeley Emergency Food Project. He produced a film to celebrate the 200th anniversary of John Murray’s arrival in America which was shown at General Assembly in 1970.


Rev. Sawyer was known for peace and social justice work throughout his life.  He was among the many UU ministers who answered the call from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join him in Selma in 1965 to march for civil rights. In 1977, he was called to serve the Berkeley Fellowship and remained there for 16 years.  While there, he involved himself in the work of the Livermore Action Group, a peace and anti-nuclear movement; the Sanctuary Movement for Central American refugees; and the Inter-Faith Middle East Peace Group, among others.  He was arrested more than 60 times over the course of his lifetime, including for blocking the gates of San Quentin prison in protest of California’s death penalty.


Rev. Sawyer traveled to China, Japan, the Ukraine, and the former Soviet Union. He was appointed in 1993 by UUA President, William Schulz, as emissary to Russia and the Ukraine.  With his wife, Susan, and accompanied by their son, Alexander, he worked with a group of local residents to establish UU fellowships in Moscow and St. Petersburg.


The author of several books of poetry, he also wrote the essay on worship for the 1963 edition of the UU Pocket Guide.  Rev. Sawyer published his final book, "Untold Story: A Short Narrative History of Our Time,” two months before his death.


Rev. Sawyer also served the Shoreline Unitarian Church in Shoreline, WA; the UU Congregation in Salem, OR; UU Church of the North Hills, Pittsburgh, PA; First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, NJ; Throop UU Church in Pasadena, CA; Monte Vista UU Congregation, Montclair, CA; and the UU Fellowship in Chico, CA.  The Throop congregation named him minister emeritus.  He delivered his last sermon from his wheelchair at the Sepulveda UU Society just three days before his death.


Rev. Sawyer is survived by his wife, Susan Sawyer, and his children, Sharlyn, Shanda, Katherine, Adam, and Alexander; a brother, Alan, and a sister, Charlotte Lacey.


A memorial service is planned for 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010, at the Sepulveda UU Society, 9550 Haskell Ave. North Hills, California 91343.  Please send notes of condolence to Susan Sawyer, 1500 N. Chester Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91104.

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