Rev. Patty Willis
I am happy to be serving as the settled minister of the Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Prescott, Arizona. When we returned to the United States after 24 years in Japan, we chose Arizona out of all 50 states and it feels good to be back home under the brilliant blue skies.
Our road to this place has been long and full of adventures. My childhood spent in Venezuela, Libya and Bahrain led me into foreign language studies. When I was ten, I told my mother that I could travel anywhere in the world by myself. She said, “You probably can. But it isn’t a good idea.” My passions from a young age were travel (including the languages that I needed to learn) and the world of the imagination—as a reader, writer and painter. In my twenties, all of these and our hope to start a new life together, caused Mary Lou Prince and me to leave the U.S. for Japan. A plan to be there for a year grew into 24. During that time, we dove into the culture, language and spirituality of Japan and traveled for two and a half years, visiting holy places around the world from synagogues in India, mosques in remote areas of China, and Hindu temples throughout India and Indonesia. These travels, and the years we spent in a Buddhist village of fourteen families in the mountains, inspired theater works that we took to Edinburgh and around Japan. My illustrated novel, The Village Above the Stars became Recommended Reading for the National Library Association of Japan, sending us around the country telling stories with Mary Lou’s original music on the Japanese koto. After twenty-four years, we began to long to reconcile with our families and country of birth.
The Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, only thirty minutes from the U.S./Mexican border, became our new home. The plight of migrants in the borderlands and participation in a UU congregation, drew me to study for the ministry and in 2008 I entered Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Richmond, Indiana. After my first year, when I returned to Arizona to spend the summer, Mary Lou and I wrote the one-person play, Man from Magdalena, about an incident on the border, and began performing it in January of 2010. We donated all of our net proceeds to microloans to Central America and Mexico to heal the poverty at the root of the migration north. To date, performances of the play have funded over $170,000 in micro-loans to embroiderers and all manner of small businesses from Mexico to Nicaragua. In the summer of 2016, I wrote and began performing Midwife, a one woman play about my pioneer ancestor’s life. This has led to reconciliation work with the Northwest Band of the Shoshone and proceeds of the performances have been funding a Shoshone language program. In September of 2018, Mary Lou and I moved from Salt Lake City where I served a Unitarian Universalist congregation for six years to Falls Church, Virginia for a year of sabbatical to study the history of enslavement and suffrage, areas which are intertwined with each other.
Now as citizens of Prescott, Arizona, Mary Lou, Louie and I love our daily walks among ponderosa pines and evenings on our deck watching the stars above and the parade of javelinas snuffling in our woodpile. With both parents and all my grandparents Wyoming natives, I feel at home with the western cowboy feel of this city. I’m taking this time as an opportunity to expand my collection of cowboy boots. At home here, I am drawn to reach across the divide between progressives and conservatives and hope to lead the Granite Peak congregation in work of peacemaking and reconciliation. For fun, I love to watch foreign films and spend time with Mary Lou and Louie exploring the nature around us. We love to cook together and write songs. I also love to write works of imagination, dance, paint, knit and am a voracious, eclectic reader. Three hours a week, I study Mexican women’s literature in Spanish with a teacher from Oaxaca. My favorite food is chocolate and the fair trade chocolate that is sold at Granite Peak is the best I’ve had so far!
I’m grateful to this community for welcoming our family into yours.