BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
It was that nagging little voice inside—along with some encouragement from Mom—that ultimately set Mary Ann Macklin on her true path. Macklin, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington (UUCB), was once poised to practice law. “It was one of the biggest decisions of my life,” Macklin recalls.
By 1988, Macklin had earned a law degree from Indiana University and was working with the legendary Viola “Vi” Taliaferro, who eventually became Monroe County’s first African American judge. “As I was finishing law school, I got this special ‘Fellowship by the Bar’ status. So, I could practice—I hadn’t passed my bar or anything,” Macklin says. “It was like everything on the outside said yes, and this very small voice within kept saying no.”
Macklin longed for the ministry, but she had some deeply personal concerns. “I almost didn’t go into it because I thought, ‘How could I be queer and go into the ministry?’” she recalls. “But my mom sent me an article about a Unitarian Universalist minister in California who was gay. I didn’t know that was possible. That took me forward on this journey.”
The 58-year-old has served UUCB for 17 years—originally as a student minister during her Indianapolis Christian Theological Seminary schooling and in her current role as senior minister. She and her spouse, Deborah Phelps, will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year.
Macklin is active in social justice work and says her previous vocation has helped her in ways she didn’t anticipate. “What you’re taught in law school is, ‘What’s the issue and how do we approach it?’” she says. “Critical thinking and understanding the law helps a lot with social justice. I probably don’t even realize how much that impacts me.”
With a soft spot for end-of-life issues, Macklin recently started a vigil program for people at risk of dying alone. “If you have enough resources—predominantly money—you will have more of the death that you want to have,” she says. “People who don’t aren’t going to have as many choices.”
The UUCB has 12 social justice groups working for reproductive rights, homelessness, hunger, and more. But their work goes beyond demonstrating and contacting legislators. For Macklin, helping others become leaders is just as important. “In our society, leadership is such a patriarchal model like, ‘Okay, I’m the leader!’” she says. “But leadership is much more about what we’re doing together.”