Our minister was born in New Orleans in 1952 to parents active in organized labor. Influenced by her activist parents, from an early age she was interested in politics and social justice. Graduating from high school in 1970, she entered St. Mary Dominican College in New Orleans, majoring in Fine Arts, where one of her professors was renowned sculptor Miss Angela Gregory, who grew up at First Church.
In 1973, she entered the business world, working in French Quarter art galleries and local hotels. (Her time at the Royal Sonesta brought her in contact with famed musician and New Orleanian Louis Prima.) In 1977, she began working for Godchaux’s on Canal Street, and by 1980 was named assistant manager. Throughout this period, she continued her activism in politics, working for the Equal Rights Amendment, the election of New Orleans’ first black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial (who became a close friend), and serving on the board of the local Health Systems Agency. She married Stephen Sullivan and their son, Stephen Warren George Sullivan, was born in 1982. The next year, they joined First Church, and Melanie became manager of the Laura Ashley Shop in the Canal Place Mall. Despite her work schedule, she volunteered at the church in her off time.
In 1985, she was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. It was a time for transitions, and Melanie left her job to become First Church’s Administrator. She took on so many responsibilities that one year, at the Fellowship Dinner, she received the tongue in cheek “I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-in-Charge-of-Everything” Award.
In 1987, she attended the first WomanSpirit gathering at The Mountain, a Unitarian Universalist Camp/Conference Center in North Carolina, and returned with a new determination to enter the path to UU ministry. Finding support among family and friends, and most importantly, in the church, she entered Loyola Institute for Ministry, from which she graduated in 1992. She was ordained during the church’s 160th anniversary, February 26, 1993.
Rev, Melanie then served the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee from 1993 to 2001. During her sabbatical in 1998, she visited India with the UUA Holdeen India Program, where she made friends with several anti-oppression activists, and served as Guest Minister to the Auckland, New Zealand Unitarian Church. In 2001 she was called to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There she continued her work in anti-racism and was active in the movement to obtain civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Divorced since 1992, Melanie met musician Eric Ensminger in 2002, and they married in 2004, spending their honeymoon in New Orleans. They share a grandson, Rocco, from Eric’s daughter Aimee. (Rev. Melanie’s son Stephen, who grew up in First Church, now lives in Atlanta.)
Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005 caused Rev. Melanie much heartache, and it was with great joy and relief that she came home to serve as Consulting Minister at First Church in September 2007. Click here to read her sermons or follow her on Twitter.