Reverend John N. Marsh Professional Accomplishments

Serving Congregations

Since 1976 Reverend Marsh has devoted his professional life to Unitarian Universalist congregations serving as:

John Marsh in the pulpit in San Francisco
  • Acting Director of Religious Education, Norwell, MA  (08/76 – 01/77)
  • Director of Religious Education, Arlington St. Church, Boston, MA (11/77 – 6/82)
  • Minister of Religious Education Los Angeles, CA (8/82 – 6/85)
  • Parish Minister, Edmonton, Alberta (4/86 – 7/95)
  • Co-Senior Minister, San Francisco, CA (8/95 – 8/04)
  • Interim Minister, Utica, NY (8/04 – 7/05)
  • Interim Minister, May Memorial, Syracuse, NY (8/05 – 7/07)
  • Interim Minister, First Parish, Arlington, MA (9/07 – 7/09)
  • Senior Minister,  First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa (11/09 – 7/16)

  • Interim Minister,  UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore (8/16 – 7/17)

Specific accomplishments at each of these Unitarian Universalist communities are outlined in Rev. Marsh’s ministerial record.

In San Francisco Rev. Marsh established a successful long-term co-ministry after a history of short-term tenures. While there he co-created worship and pastoral associate programs. His activities also included helping with that church’s partner church and social justice projects in partnership with allies who included the Faithful Fools Street Ministry and Habitat for Humanity.

The achievements of which Rev. Marsh is especially proud include establishing children’s programs in inner city churches in Boston and Los Angeles, re-creating a sense of worship in Edmonton, and outreach to the gay and lesbian community there.

Author Geoffrey Canada with Rev. Marsh before Canada

Author Geoffrey Canada with Rev. Marsh before Canada’s guest sermon in San Francisco.

While focusing on Interim Ministry, Rev. Marsh has been skilled at readying congregations for their next settled ministry, helping them identify and resolve potential festering problems, and rebuilding critical areas of their organizations.

As an accredited interim minister, Rev. Marsh comes prepared to lead congregations through the five tasks of interim ministry:

  1. Owning one’s heritage, both the triumphs and the failings
  2. Exploring identity and direction
  3. Considering new possibilities
  4. Renewing linkages
  5. Committing to new leadership and new goals

Awards and Publications

2006: Advisor/Consultant to “A Faith-Based Sexuality Education Guide for the Inclusion of Children and Youth with Special Needs” by Sally Patton (scheduled to be available online by summer 2007). This guide is to supplement the “Our Whole Lives” (OWL) curricula.

2004: Unitarian Universalists for Ethical Treatment of Animals Special Award for various works, including commencing an annual service for the “Blessing of the Animals” at the San Francisco Unitarian Universalist Church.

2003: “Margaret Laurence,” a biographical essay published in The Online Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography at:
2000: “Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing” in Essex Conversations (Skinner Press, UUA, Boston, 2001).

Practicing the Scales of Rejoicing
1999: “Choose Life” in Sermons, Homilies, Reflections on the Death Penalty (published by the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, PA).

1998: “Reflections of a Fish Tank Man” in U.U. and ME: Church of the Larger Fellowship Children’s Magazine, September 1999, (Vol. 3 No. 2).

Sweetgrass and Cottonwood1996: Annual Social Justice Award of the Western Canada District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

1995: “The Unitarian Church of Edmonton,” a history printed in Northern Lights, edited by Joan Montagnes, (Moosemilk Press, Edmonton, Alberta).

1994: editor, Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke by Mary Scriver (Moosemilk Press, Edmonton, Alberta).

Higher Education

Rev. Marsh received his undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, graduating magna cum laude. He  majored in English literature and took as many theater classes as his schedule allowed.

His two mentors from this period were Joseph Donohue and John Farmakis. Professor Donohue read Shakespeare aloud to his classes in a deep baritone and performed Gilbert and Sullivan on the weekends. The Rev. John Farmakis ministered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northampton, advised what courses to take in philosophy, and taught Rev. Marsh to take seriously the life of the mind.

Harvard Divinity School

Attending Harvard Divinity School fulfilled a long-held dream.

Conrad Wright taught Rev. Marsh the history of the Unitarian Universalist movement — how things came to be the way that they are.

When it came to understanding what our denomination should be doing now, James Luther Adams was inspirational with his vision of our church as a collection of free-thinking individuals who, as occasions demand, feel and act together to make a difference in the larger world — who take the “risk of relating liberal faith to concrete issues.”

Two other important influences from this period were Carter Heyward and Nahum Glatzer. Carter Heyward was one of the first women ordained into the Episcopal priesthood. She later came out as a lesbian. She teaches that we should trust our intuition and the longings of our bodies as a source of religious authority.

Nahum Glatzer once described himself as one of the last Pharisees: one who looks to the written religious law as the main source of inspiration. From Glatzer Rev. Marsh took “Classical Jewish Wisdom,” a course in the “Book of Job,” and “Contemporary Jewish Thought.” Our own Beacon Press published many of his books.


I hope to help the next church I serve grow stronger as an institution and as a progressive force in its community. I look forward to celebrating life's passages with individuals and their families, and to leading public worship. I also hope to continue to be of service to our wider movement.

I believe that the larger world needs the message we have to offer and that our congregations deserve to flourish.

— Rev. John Marsh

In the Denomination and Wider Community

From 1998 to spring of 2003 Rev. Marsh served as the Ministerial Settlement Representative for the Pacific Central District. This involved serving as a consultant to churches who are in search for professional leadership.

While in San Francisco most of Rev. Marsh’s community work focused on abolishing the death penalty in California. He was the founding chair of the board of directors of the California People of Faith Working to End the Death Penalty (1987). This is a statewide organization whose mission is “to empower California’s diverse faith communities to end the death penalty through advocacy, education, and prayer.” While the death penalty has not yet been abolished in California  —  the group continues as an active organization.

During his Spring, 2003 sabbatical Rev. Marsh made weekly visits to two men on death row at the San Quentin Prison.

He has also been an active volunteer at the schools his children attended. Rev. Marsh served on the San Francisco Public Schools Middle School Language Arts Textbook Selection Committee.

Father Roy Bourgeois with Rev. Marsh.

Father Roy Bourgeois with Rev. Marsh. Father Roy, a Vietnam veteran turned Catholic priest, founded and led grassroots opposition to the School of the Americas (SOA), a training facility run by the U.S. government to professionalize Latin American military forces.

Recent Actions

2012 – 2015  Successful Efforts on Behalf of The Multifaith Housing Initiative

In 2012 I agreed to serve as one of the Spiritual Patrons of the Multi-faith Housing Initiative of Ottawa.  MHI, as its names suggests, is a coalition of faith based organizations that work together to provide low cost housing to some of Ottawa’s most vulnerable families.  In 2014 they launched a capital fund drive called “A Place to Call Home” with the aim of doubling their number of rental units.

At our annual meeting that spring the Ottawa Congregation agreed to make support for MHI and “A Place to Call Home” a priority for the Congregation for the next two years.   We kicked off the fall with a series of speakers (a Baptist Minister, a Jewish Rabbi, an Islamic spiritual leader, and me) talking about the legacy of Abraham, Sarah, and Haga, the theme of homelessness in their stories, and the importance of supporting the “A Place to Call Home” campaign.

I worked with others to organize a fundraising banquet to honor one of the elder couples in our Congregation (Werner and Marjorie Daechsel) that have been long time activists on behalf of public housing.  In February we put together a benefit concert celebrating the life and songs of Pete Seeger.  We were able to feature some of the best local folksingers as well as the lead singer and lead guitarist from “Hey Rosetta” one of the most sought after indie rock groups in Canada.  That spring the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa was given an award by MHI in recognition of being the Congregation that raised the most money that year.

The next fall MHI, in part because of the success of its fundraising campaign, was awarded a gift of land from the city of Ottawa on which to locate its new homes.

Sunday Worship for the 2015 Canadian Unitarian Council Conference:  “The Refuge of Three Rivers”

“The Sunday Worship Service at the 2015 Canadian Unitarian Council Conference in Ottawa was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  Part spectacle and part exploration of Canada’s history, it was a worship service that both explained and challenged.  It included projected images, a soundtrack, a large choir assembled from across Canada, young children, and youth and adults together manipulating giant puppets.  While it evidenced collaboration on a massive scale, it also clearly flowed from the imagination of John Marsh: from his writing the lyrics to many of the hymns, to the stories and pictures in the Prelude, to the short sermon he gave which wove the themes together.  It was both a joyful celebration of Canada’s heritage and an honest look at some of the unfortunate historical incidents.  It was a call to preserve the wilderness of Canada, and to move forward with the project of building a more perfect human community.”

— (Rev.) Steve Dick, Executive Director, International Council of Unitarians and Universalists

2014: “Samuel Gridley Howe,” biographical essay published in “The Online Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography”.

2012 – 2017        Produced a number of YouTube videos  (view them online)