Remembering Mary Ellen Kilsby


After a prolonged illness and entering hospice, Mary Ellen Kilsby, a long-time member and friend of the process community, died on January 4, 2013. Mary Ellen will be deeply missed by many whose lives she touched, including her four children, eleven grandchildren, but also by her process friends.

Growing up in Los Angeles, church was a regular part of Mary Ellen’s childhood. After graduating from Pomona College with a BA degree in sociology and religion, she married her Pomona boyfriend Bud. He soon got involved in his family’s steel business, allowing time for her to take courses at the Claremont School of Theology. In time, Mary Ellen received both MA and Doctor of Ministry degrees, including process theology in her studies.

Her professional involvement began in 1975, when Mary Ellen found her calling as an associate minister at the Claremont United Church of Christ. “It was a cosmic click,” she says of her first position. “I quickly realized it was something that I was born to do.”

Mary Ellen served as pastor of a UCC church in Altadena, Calif., from 1983 to 1987. In 1988, First Congregational Church of Long Beach had the courage to hire the Rev. Dr. Mary Ellen Kilsby as Senior Minister, eventually serving there for twelve years. She was the first woman to hold this position in the 1,000-person church, and guided them through the Open and Affirming process to become LGBT friendly.

Retiring in 1999, Mary Ellen discovered a second passion for philanthropy through her support of Pomona College and organizations like the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Claremont School of Theology. She was a major supporter of process theology, and helped endow the Kilsby Family/John B. Cobb, Jr. Chair in Process Studies, of whom Roland Faber was the first and current professor to occupy the chair starting in 2010.

Over the years, Mary Ellen provided significant ecumenical leadership. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Pomona Valley Council of Churches, President of the Ecumenical Council of the Pasadena Area Churches, and President of the South Coast Ecumenical Council. Among her many other accomplishments, Mary Ellen was a past president of Progressive Christians Uniting, an organization that was co-founded by John Cobb.

Peace be with you and with the relationships that make us who we are.

UPDATE: There will be two memorial services to honor the life of the Rev. Dr. Mary Ellen Kilsby:

Saturday, January 19th at 2:00 p.m. held at First Congregational Church, Long Beach, CA

Sunday, January 20th at 4:00 p.m. at Claremont United Church of Christ, Claremont, CA