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Faithful Representation: Endings and Beginnings

Maureen Cotton reads from a book in front of a microphone
Maureen Cotton ’05 (Photo Henry and Mac Photography)

Emerson students aren’t necessarily known for being religious, but the College works to support students of all faiths, and has even produced a number of alums who go on to become faith leaders.  

For Faithful Representation, an occasional series, Emerson Today spoke with alums and staff members who lead congregations or minister to faith groups to learn about their spirituality, religion, and how Emerson influences them while doing God’s work.

Maureen Cotton ’05

Maureen Cotton became an interfaith reverend in 2015. After the death of her grandfather, she wanted to be a chaplain to help people have good deaths. Her grandfather had a military funeral with a strong set of rituals, and she found his services powerful.

“Once upon a time, religion told you what the afterlife was and how to prepare for death,” said Cotton. “Sometimes we don’t have that same structure [now], and we’re missing that. I wanted to be with people at the end of their life who are spiritual, not religious, and have beautiful funerals.”

As time has gone on, she’s moved in the other direction of life’s timeline. She had worked in the wedding industry as a photographer for many years, and thought she’d like to work with engaged couples as they move into marriage.

“Serious stuff comes up [when] planning a wedding. That’s when my offerings come into play,” said Cotton, who designed her own Visual Communication and Design major at Emerson. “This is more about looking inwards and having an experience with your partner. If they are religious, we integrate it.”

Cotton meets with the couple together. Then each member fills out questionnaires, meets individually with Cotton, and finally the three of them come together to reflect and craft what they want in a marriage. Each person learns how they want to be supported and how to support their other half. It’s a little like premarital counseling, but she is not certified in counseling.

“I see over and over again, … the need to take the time to revisit your history and that’s really moving for people. I see little patterns, I think of questions, especially if I’m officiating a wedding,” said Cotton.

An Emerson photography class also had a unique influence on Cotton’s spirituality. She lived in Mission Hill at the time, and decided to create a photo series of the Franciscan monks she saw every day from her porch.

“I didn’t know then, but it was my awakening to inter-spirituality. Looking back, I discovered my spirituality through yoga in high school. My dad died when I was young, so I was grieving,” said Cotton.

She photographed the monks during meditation and related her experience as a Catholic and yogi. She learned of the monks’ contemplative lives and stories, and what moved them to enter into a religious life. Cotton felt like she had similar experiences.

“I wouldn’t claim to represent any religion I’ve studied. It’s really about serving an individual in a moment or a community in a moment,” said Cotton.

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