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Meet the Susan and Spencer Lavan Scholar

Shari Woodbury, Susan and Spencer Lavan Scholar

Shari Woodbury believes in creating the world we wish to live in. This has guided her many years working in nonprofits, including leading two community foundations.  She took the step towards professional religious leadership after an off-handed comment to one of her ministers about a ministerial vocation led to an invitation to give it serious consideration. When Shari looked back at recent poems, sacred phrases that had been popping up in her mind, and her patchwork of vocational interests, she saw how they all expressed a spiritual calling. Details, such as her creation of a piece of Maori discernment art, suddenly made sense, interpreted in this light.

“Intellectually,” Shari says, “I could have talked myself out of ministry, but I paid attention to my body and my energy and it led me to seminary.” 

In January 2012, Shari tried out the Meadville Lombard educational model by taking “Ministry in a Post-Denominational Age,” taught by President and Professor of Ministry, Lee Barker.

“I felt at home in Lee’s class as well as in the learning community of Meadville Lombard,” says Shari. “All of me is welcome, and what inspires me is welcome.”

Shari applied to several seminaries, and even received another full-tuition scholarship at a non-UU identity school nearer to her home in southern Indiana. While she could have chosen to study elsewhere, she realized there were unique opportunities at Meadville Lombard.

In addition to the liberal religious academic offerings, the educational model appealed to Shari. The low-residency program allowed her to go to school full-time at a UU-identity school without relocating her family from their home in Bloomington, Indiana. Shari and her husband, a visual effects artist, are raising three-year old daughter, Avonelle.

“I can make this work as a parent with a young child,” Shari says. “The intensive model allows me to be truly immersed in seminary when I am in Chicago.”

Shari also says she loves the learning philosophy at Meadville Lombard—that ‘you act yourself into new ways of thinking’—a philosophy that has proven true in her own experience as a leader in philanthropic and activist causes. Her innovative and entrepreneurial work within the community as well as her academic standing and her active involvement in UU congregations led to her selection as the Lavan Scholar.

“It is a great honor to receive the Spencer and Susan Lavan Scholarship,” says Shari. “I feel affirmed in answering my call to a ministry of love and transformation. The financial support will allow me not only to avoid the burden of debt, but to remain firmly focused on my ministerial training in the next three years -- so that I can make the most of the opportunities Meadville Lombard provides to ripen into the roles of prophet and pastor, scholar and seeker. I am deeply grateful to the Lavans for investing in me and the ministry I will offer to our world.”

While Shari is honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to study at Meadville Lombard as a result of the Lavan’s generosity in endowing this scholarship, Meadville Lombard is equally thrilled to have Shari as a part of our learning community.