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Sue Swanson: United’s 2024 Distinguished Alum


Image of Rev. Sue Swanson

Sue Swanson, who earned her MDiv in 2005, has been selected as United’s 2024 Distinguished Alum. A highly skilled artist, teacher, and retreat leader, Sue has been serving communities through her arts ministry, Purple Apple Arts, since 2000. Classes, workshops, and retreats offer gateways to healing, wholeness, and meditation through art—beadwork, collage, knitting, labyrinth, Zentangle-style meditative drawing, journal-making, clay work, painting, drawing, music, and ritual. She calls her integrative ministry work Prayercraft.

According to nominator Kathy Deacon-Weber (’97), “Sue lives with intention.” She grounds her ministry with daily journaling and art practice, takes one art class every month, and offers up to four classes each month in art centers, churches, stores, conferences, schools, and with private groups.

Sue also maintains memberships and certifications to deepen her understanding of spirit and context. She belongs to the Labyrinth Society and Minnesota Labyrinth Network and is an Advanced Certified Veriditas Facilitator, trained by Lauren Artress at Grace Cathedral. To enhance her appreciation, Sue made a pilgrimage to the early thirteenth-century labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral (France). Using her expertise, Sue has created hand labyrinths, canvas labyrinths, and outdoor labyrinths at churches, art centers, and even her backyard.

Sue’s award-winning beadwork has appeared in several publications, and she involves herself with many group beadwork projects. Her beading classes include a history of how beads have been used as a meditation tool as well as for art and adornment. During the classes, participants can make meditation bracelets, gratitude beads, peace beads, house blessing beads, and spiritual journey necklaces.

“I believe the thing that stands out with Sue’s arts ministry,” Kathy asserts, “is that she is responsible for the groundwork that formed it. She has researched and developed her classes and retreats on her own. She teaches traditional practices and crafts in a way that appeals to modern audiences. Her ministry is not grounded in one place or community.”

One might posit that Sue’s gift for spiritual leadership emerged at the 1993 Reimagining Conference. Held in Minneapolis November 4–7, the event drew more than 2,200 participants—many feminist theologians, and mostly women. The conference invited participants to re-imagine the traditional male-centered language of Christianity and to broaden their understanding of God and what that might mean for the church. Sue attended the conference, and in the ensuing backlash, helped establish the Re-Imagining Community. She was a member of the ritual committee for the 1994 conference and worked to organize Re-Imagining groups throughout the country in 1995.

In addition to committee work, Sue gave several faith labs or classes in local churches. She contributed writing and musical composition skills; she wrote for a Re-Imaging Community quarterly report and composed music for the conferences. For the 1996 conference, Sue and Nancy Berneking co-wrote “You Call Us,” a song published in Bring the Feast, Songs from the Re-Imagining Community (1998). In 2003, Sue edited the Re-Imagining ritual book, Bless Sophia: Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual of the Re-Imagining Community.

Dr. Sherry Jordon, St. Thomas University’s Emerita Professor of Theology, who has been a part of Sue Swanson’s Re-Imagining Community for more than 30 years, notes, “Through her service to the Re-Imagining Community, her teaching, and her art, Sue has made great contributions to a variety of communities, both religious and secular.” She adds, “In her life and work, Sue exemplifies United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities’ commitment to theological exploration and artistic expression.”

Join us in celebrating and congratulating Sue Swanson as this year’s Distinguished Alum!


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