In Praise of Graceful Exits

This is a crazy week end, with two of my favorite UU ministers delivering their final messages to their congregations today. Another favorite is retiring as well. And I’m aware of another who I don’t know as well but respect greatly who is hanging up her robes. There’s a larger question — Why now? — that I don’t feel qualified to answer, though I have thoughts. 

But for now, I’d like to traffic in gratitude.

Rev. Ken officiating at our renewing of our vows (Year 25) in 2017.

Rev. Ken Beldon delivered his final message at WellSprings Congregation, in Chester Springs, Pa., this morning. It was a greatest hits, which, for Ken, is some pretty tasty material. Ken has been a minister at WellSprings for the decade-plus I’ve been there. I’ve listened to him preach, gone to justice events with him in West Chester, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. We’ve even gone on a weeklong service trip to Haiti (my second time there). I served on his ministerial committee, participated as a student and co-leader in mindfulness classes he led, and went to more than a few Jason Isbell concerts with him. I do remember him leading off a ministerial committee meeting once with Isbell’s “Relatively Easy,” which I’d discovered around the same time and has since become a hymn in my own personal liturgy. (I hope I didn’t just break some ministerial committee NDA I signed back in 2012.)

Ken is an amazing preacher and connector of dots. Above all, Ken’s sharing of his experience with mindfulness has had a huge impact on my life. I don’t think I become the adult I’m still becoming without his teaching, guidance and support.

In his final message today, he spoke about #ordinarypraise, the idea that spiritual practice is forged in and benefitted most from in everyday life. We live in the valley, not the mountains, he said. That resonated with me deeply, and it’s why I appreciate his experience and ministry so much.


Kent sparring with an Infowars TV crew at a 2016 Black Lives Matter rally at Independence Hall.

Rev. Kent Matthies is a great friend. My wife worked with Kent on regional denominational issues, especially justice, in the early 2000s. We are roughly generational equals, and found a mutual appreciation of the other. Kent was the minister at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, which is a diverse, urban UU congregation in Philadelphia. Going to Kent’s congregation is like getting real. Justice isn’t a hypothetical for his congregation, it is an essential part of who they are.

And Kent is a peace warrior. In 2017, I remember, he had partnered with a group advocating for better re-integrating people previously held in prison. We were at a racial justice protest in downtown Philly, in the shadow of Independence Hall, in the runup to the 2016 elections. Kent held his own when a TV crew from InfoWars showed up to ask him some very pointed, and ugly, questions.

For three years, I co-led the Martin Luther King Day of Service projects that ran out of USG. We basically found service work for up to 400 people each year, some on and some off campus. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know the Germantown congregants, and to turn Dr. King’s message into deeds.

Kent has an infectious energy and joyous, subversive sense of humor. He lives with honesty, integrity and joy, and I treasure his friendship.


Me, Rev. Kent Matthies and Rev. Peter Friedrichs at Peter’s discussion of his book at Swarthmore College, in the midst of the pandemic (we dropped out masks for just one minute).

Rev. Peter Friedrichs is the retiring minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, in Media, Pa. Peter is a great pastor and preacher, and he recently published his first novel, And the Stars Kept Watch. He is moving out of the Philadelphia area as part of retirement, but I look forward to seeing what he does creatively and in pulling people together around justice.


I am so thankful to all three of these ministers as teachers, as guides, as friends, and I look forward to seeing what each of them do next, as I am sure it will benefit other people and inspire me.

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