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In Memory of . . . Gordon B. McKeeman (1920-2013)

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Rev. Dr. Gordon Butler "Bucky” McKeeman died on December 18th, 2013 at the age of 93.

Gordon was born in Lynn, MA, on September 12th, 1920 to William Neil and Lena Mabel (Goodridge) McKeeman. He graduated from Lynn English High School in 1938, and from Salem State College, with a B. S. in Education, in 1942.

Gordon went on to receive his Masters Degree in 1945 from the Universalist School of Religion at Tufts University. In 1969, he earned an Honorary Doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School.

Ordained to the Universalist ministry in 1945, Rev. McKeeman served All Souls Universalist Church of Worcester, MA from 1944 - 1950, First Parish Universalist Church of Stoughton, MA from 1950 - 1955, St. Paul’s Church of Palmer, MA from 1955 - 1961, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, OH from 1961 - 1983. In 1984, he was named Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, OH. In 1983, he accepted the invitation to serve as the President of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA, and he did so faithfully until 1988. His influence on the nature and shape of Unitarian Universalist ministry endures.

Rev. McKeeman engaged civic life with zeal. He held various offices on the Unity Community Council, served as a Board member for the Akron Rotary Club, founded the Fair Housing Contact Service, and founded the Planned Parenthood Association of Akron OH. He was also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Akron, OH.

Heavily invested in and committed to the denomination, Rev. McKeeman served as Vice President of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention, and President of the Massachusetts Universalist Ministers’ Association. Along with his wife, Phyllis, he served as Youth Leader at Ferry Beach. Additionally, he was the President of the Ohio-Meadville District, Vice President and President of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and Vice Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees. Additionally, he ran for Presidency of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Rev. McKeeman received the Angus H. MacLean Award from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1982, and was the Berry Street Conference Essayist in 1993. Together with his wife Phyllis, he was awarded the UUA Distinguished Service Award in 1993.

Rev. McKeeman placed tremendous value on lay ministry. The Ohio Meadville District’s Commissioned Lay Leader program is an outgrowth of his grounding in Universalism and his understanding regarding the importance of strong lay leadership and the need for leadership that emerges from within congregations.

His unceasing commitment to Universalism led to his being a charter member of The Humiliati (the humble ones). The group, formed in 1945, "stressed that human beings are impelled, not compelled, by the power of God to fulfill the good potential of their lives. The impulse toward wholeness in humanity is predisposed to good, though it can be weakened or distorted by chaos and conflict. Authentic worship keeps it alive and restores its integrity.” By the time The Humiliati disbanded in 1954, Rev. McKeeman was elected as their lifetime Abbot. During the last few years of his life, Rev. McKeeman wistfully reflected upon being the last living member of The Humilati.

Rev. McKeeman belonged to the ministerial study group, The Fraters of the Wayside Inn. The group was founded by Universalist ministers in 1903 and succeeding the 1961 merger of Universalism and Unitarianism, expanded to include individuals ordained in the Unitarian ministry as well as those ordained in the new denomination. Rev. McKeeman advocated for the election of women into the group; in 1989, The Fraters’ membership expanded to include women. The Fraters of Wayside Inn was very important to Rev. McKeeman, and into the last few years of his life he treasured mementos and keepsakes he gathered during his years with the group.

Rev. McKeeman’s passion for ministry impacted innumerable lives. In the beloved meditation manual Out of the Ordinary: Meditations, he wrote:

Ministry is
a quality of relationship between and among
human beings
that beckons forth hidden possibilities.

Inviting people into deeper, more constant
more reverent relationship with the world
and with one another.

Carrying forward a long heritage of hope and
liberation that has dignified and informed
the human venture over many centuries.
Being present with, to, and for others
in their terrors and torments
in their grief, misery and pain.

Knowing that those feelings
are our feelings, too.

Celebrating the triumphs of the human spirit
the miracles of birth and life
the wonders of devotion and sacrifice.

Witnessing to life-enhancing values
speaking truth to power
standing for human dignity and equity
for compassion and aspiration.

Believing in life in the presence of death
struggling for human responsibility
against principalities and structures
that ignore humaneness and become
instruments of death.

It is all these and much, much more than all of
them, present in
the wordless
the unspoken
the ineffable.

It is speaking and living the highest we know
and living with the knowledge that it is
never as deep, or as wide
or a high as we wish.

Whenever there is a meeting
that summons us to our better selves, wherever
our lostness is found
our fragments are united
or our wounds begin healing
our spines stiffen and
our muscles grow strong for the task

There is ministry.

Gordon is survived by his loving wife of 69 years, Phyllis; sons, Bruce, Glenn, and Randall; four grandchildren; and sister, Gloria King. Gordon was preceded in death by his parents.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee or to the charity of donor's choice. To share a special memory or condolence, please visit

"We are lovers, we say Yes to each other. Yes to life—to more and more of life—to its brevity, its grief, its disappointments. To its possibilities, its magnificence, its glory. We quarrel—because we glimpse further possibilities, the non-sense—and wish to lay claim to it. We remember death, and that life is brief, and that the time for love is now and more is possible. One more step toward the holy. It is to know the peace that passes understanding and that there is no peace. It is to love others as they are, warts and all, and to believe that more is possible, and to bespeak that wanting. It is to pray "Give us this day our daily bread….” and to know that we do not live by bread alone. It is to remember death, and to love life and to accept them both as holy.”

The Reverend Gordon Butler "Bucky” McKeeman, Berry Street Lecture, 1993

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