The Rev. Sarah Barber-Braun died on December 17, 2017 at the age of 92.
Sarah was born on October 23, 1925 to Dallas Dayton Lore McGrew and Elizabeth Barber McGrew. Born in Tokyo, Japan while her architect father worked there, Sarah grew up in Maryland. She earned her BA in Political Theory and Government from Massachusetts’s Radcliffe College in 1947, then worked for a time as a primary and pre-school teacher. After moving to Missoula, MT and adopting her three children—Paula, Julia, and Daniel—Sarah worked for sixteen years as a self-employed jeweler. A lifelong learner, Sarah also participated in graduate coursework in Education, Art, Political Theory, Women’s Studies, and American Studies. After discovering Unitarian Universalism and heeding a call toward ministry, Sarah earned her Master of Divinity from California’s Starr King School for the Ministry in 1984.
Rev. Barber-Braun was ordained on February 17, 1985 by the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, CA. She first served as an extension minister at the UU Congregation of Erie, PA from 1986 to 1989. Rev. Barber-Braun then served for a year as interim minister at Des Moines, WA’s Saltwater UU Church, before ministering to the First Universalist Society in New Haven, CT 1994 to 1996. Sarah then carried out another interim ministry at the Mattatuck UU Society in Woodbury, CT until 1997. In that year she began serving the First Universalist Church of Southold, NY, ministering there until her retirement in 2002.
Rev. Barber-Braun dedicated much service to her denomination, including serving on the board of the UUA’s Pacific Central District (now part of the Pacific Western Region) from 1979 to 1983. Sarah was also an active member of the UU Ministers’ Association, and she served as President of the Ohio-Meadville Chapter in 1989. Rev. Barber-Braun was also a founding member of the UU Women’s Heritage Society and served as Chair of its Continental Council. Sarah further served as Chair of UU Collegium’s Feminisms Section. And she was a regular presenter on women’s history at UU General Assembly.
Sarah was a passionate participant in the politics of her community, and she advocated for women’s reproductive rights through her work with Planned Parenthood and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She also enjoyed gardening, and always held a deep love for dance—especially contra dancing. Finally, Sarah devoted decades of independent scholarship to the life and work of nineteenth-century Universalist minister Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford, even gaining access to papers held by Hanaford’s great-great-granddaughters. Sarah wrote numerous essays, articles, and reflective pieces on her beloved subject, and was a primary contributor to Hanford’s first full-length biography: A Mighty Social Force by Loretta Cody (2009).
In her essay “Looking for Julia, Finding Phebe” (Critical Mass, Spring 1989), Rev. Barber-Braun offered these words to conclude the piece—words that seem a fitting tribute to Sarah’s own vital work:
We are all connected, women in the ordained ministry and lay women who fought for civil rights and women who struggled, unrecorded, in their homes. But so many of their stories have been forgotten by their children, never told to their grandchildren. It is up to us to look for them, to discover their stories, and to recover our own history.
Sarah is survived by her children Paula Braun, Julia Roth, and Daniel Braun; her grandchildren Tegan Spangrude, Carl Spangrude, David Braun, and Andrea Braun; and her brother John McGrew (Wendy). She was predeceased by her son Benjamin Braun.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Unity Church – Unitarian, 733 Portland Ave, St Paul, MN 55104.
A celebration of life was held on August 12, 2017 with Rev. Barber-Braun in attendance.
Notes of condolence may be sent to Julia Roth at 1963 Split Mountain, Canyon Lake, TX 78133.