Arts and Entertainment

A former minister and her journey toward love is the subject of new documentary to play in Langley

Marilyn Sewell’s life is the subject of the documentary film “Raw Faith.” - Photo courtesy of “Raw Faith” website
Marilyn Sewell’s life is the subject of the documentary film “Raw Faith.”
— image credit: Photo courtesy of “Raw Faith” website

Here is a brave soul who decided to explore the very deepest parts of herself, and she does it all on camera.

“Raw Faith” is an intimate and revealing documentary that follows two years in the private life of Marilyn Sewell, an outspoken and socially progressive Unitarian minister who resigned her life as a minister in Oregon to journey to the center of herself.

“The film is the story of my leaving the church, and working to find my way into a loving relationship, as

I made a new life for myself,” Sewell said.

“Raw Faith,” which was directed by Peter Wiedensmith, received the Nashville Public Television Human Spirit Award in 2010 and was an official selection of the Nashville Film Festival. The film has been a darling of sorts of movie critics and has been lauded for its resoundingly humanistic note.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island church in Freeland will hold a two-day event Jan. 14 and 15 featuring Sewell, who will attend a screening of “Raw Faith” at the Clyde at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, with a question and answer period to follow. Sewell will also speak at the UUCWI service at 10 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 14.

Sewell’s journey in front of the camera began before she transitioned out of ministry when a couple from the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Ore. asked her to tell her story.

“They said to me, ‘We would like to get your liberal religious message out there to a larger world.’ They were individuals who had formerly worked for Nike, and who were sophisticated with marketing. They became the producers of the film,” Sewell added.

The film was originally supposed to be about Sewell leaving her life as a minister, after 17 years of being the Senior Minister of First Unitarian.

“But soon into the making of the film, I was surprised to find myself falling in love with George Crandall, an architect, whom I knew from his work on the building committee at the church,” Sewell said.

After serving a community that relies on her for wisdom and advice — on both personal and ethical issues

— Sewell struggles quietly in the film with decisions about her own future.

At that point, the film’s direction shifts and begins to record the blossoming relationship between Sewell and Crandall in real time. Sewell said it was a difficult phase of her life and she struggled with feelings of intimacy, having grown up in a troubled family and with an alcoholic father who sent her mixed messages about how to love.

“I needed to return to the scene of my hometown and those early memories, in order to understand and resolve those difficulties,” Sewell said.

“I worked with a therapist and with my spiritual director to work through these problems,” she added.

And, just a reminder, she did all of it in front of the camera.

“On the first day of shooting, I told the director of the film that what I had to offer was absolute honesty in front of the camera,” Sewell said.

“I knew from my experience as a minister that self revelation is risky, and yet when I was willing to be open in my sermons and tell my personal story, people seemed to relate to my story as their own, and to greatly benefit. So I was willing to take that risk.”

Sewell said the film is much more revealing than anything she has ever done or said. People who see it, she said, will know more about her than even her best friend ever knew.

As the former minister’s life unfolds, she shares her journey with remarkable candor, humor and increasing wisdom, ultimately leading her to an unexpected revelation of faith and love. It’s a personal story, but translates to one that is universal.

“The result for audiences is that many people seem deeply touched by the story,” she added.

One of those people is singer songwriter Sheryl Crow.

She happens to be a friend of the “Raw Faith” producers. Crow had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and her friends gave her some of Sewell’s sermons to read during that trying time. When the film was finished, they showed her the film and she offered to write a love song for it.  Crow’s “Love Will Remain” is the title song of “Raw Faith.”

“Raw Faith” will be aired on the Documentary Channel in April.

Sewell herself is busy getting the word out about the film and with other pursuits.

Currently living near the Willamette River in Portland, Sewell is working on a book and continues to blog weekly through her “Reflections,” offering a spiritual perspective on issues of the day. Read it at

In addition to speaker Sewell, the Sunday, Jan. 14 service will include music by violinists Gloria Ferry-Brennan and Teo Benson, and pianist Nola Allen playing Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Violins.”

All are welcome.


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