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Centenarian ordained to honor long service

Muriel Davies ordained by Maryland church she founded almost 50 years ago.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Rev. Muriel Davies

The newly ordained Rev. Muriel Davies, 100, at her November ordination service in Bethesda, Md. (Ginger Luke)

Muriel Davies—that’s the Reverend Muriel Davies—celebrated her 100th birthday Sunday November 19 by being ordained minister emerita of River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, a church that she helped found 47 years ago.

Davies was the first staff member—the organizing director—of River Road in 1959. The church now has 650 members and 300 children and youth. “There was no minister in the beginning and for 18 months she was the sole staff person,” said the Rev. Scott Alexander, minister of River Road. “She contacted the families, and then got the church school going. And she did all this from an office in her home.”

The afternoon ordination ceremony was followed by a birthday party for Davies.

“It was wonderful,” said Davies, contacted later at home. “The day and the ordination meant a great deal more to me than I can say. My connection with River Road is very important to me. I went through a very hard time when my husband died in 1957. The church really changed my life. It gave me self-confidence and I became a different person through that job with the church.”

Davies’ husband was the Rev. A. Powell Davies, a prominent Unitarian minister and social justice advocate who led All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, D.C., through much of the late 1940s and ’50s. He also helped found many new congregations in the Washington area. (Click the link in the sidebar to read a companion story about A. Powell Davies’ legacy.)

Muriel Davies supported her husband throughout their married life and then when he died suddenly at age 55 she had to “reinvent herself,” said the Rev. Ginger Luke, minister of religious education at River Road.

“Others saw in Muriel what she didn’t see in herself,” Luke said. They convinced her she had the skills to help form a new congregation. At first she was doubtful she could do the job, but she accepted and she rapidly gained confidence, said Luke. She told Muriel’s story in a sermon that Sunday morning titled “Recreating Ourselves.”

After the church was formed, Davies became director of the church school and stayed in that position until 1970. During the 1960s the church school had nearly 500 children and youth. Davies’ involvement with the church has continued to the present day.

During the ordination, candles were lit for each of the congregations she had been part of, including two in England, three in Maine, one in New Jersey, All Souls in Washington, D.C., one in California, and two in Maryland. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren all had a part in the service.

Davies suffered a broken hip six months ago, but was able to walk during the ordination service. The Rev. Betty Jo Middleton, a retired minister of religious education, and Deborah Kahn, director of religious education at the UU Church of Rockville, presented Davies with a handmade silk stole with flaming chalices in her favorite color, purple. The stole was made at a meeting of the Greater Washington Association Religious Education Council. Three hundred people attended the ordination service, about 30 of whom were ministers and religious educators.

While Davies’ ordination at 100 is unusual, it has precedent. Unitarian Universalism’s tradition of “congregational polity” gives certain rights to the congregations themselves—like ordination—rather than to a larger governing body. This means that any congregation can ordain a minister, just as River Road ordained Davies. However, the UUA’s Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group does advise ministerial candidates to follow a particular educational and vocational training path, culminating in ministerial fellowship, before pursuing ordination.

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