It is with a sense of loss that the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group inform you of the death of the Reverend Ric Masten. He died on May 9, 2008 at his mountain home near Carmel, California of prostrate cancer. He was 78.
Rev. Masten was a “troubadour minister” who performed his music and poetry before congregations throughout the United States over a career spanning five decades. He is the author of 23 books, a dozen song albums, and the popular hymn “Let It Be a Dance.”
Rev. Masten was born in Carmel on June 20, 1929. He graduated from Montezuma High School in Los Gatos, California in 1946, and attended several colleges, but never received a degree, due in part to undiagnosed dyslexia and a severe hearing impairment. He is perhaps the only fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister never to have graduated from seminary or college.
A promising artist, Rev. Masten studied briefly with Millard Sheets and Millford Zorn at Pomona College, and with famed cubist Fernand Léger at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1949. He also wrote and produced musical comedies in Carmel, and became a contract writer for Warner Brothers, ultimately having seventy-eight of his songs recorded in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Rev. Masten began his ministry in 1968, offering guest services in California churches with the backing of Rev. Howard and Rosemary Matson, culminating in an impressive performance at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Cleveland. The UUA then awarded Masten a Frank Billings Lectureship with the express aim of “taking the spirit of liberal religion to college campuses and churches around the country.” Many of his poems explored how race, religion, women’s liberation, alcohol abuse, aging, and other social issues impact the most intimate personal relationships.
Rev. Masten was ordained in 1972 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, Virginia as part of an effort of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee to address the need for non-parish ministers engaged in social action. The first of these so-called Specialized Ministers was Howard Matson, who began working full-time with Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in 1969. The category of Specialized Ministers was terminated in 1974, but Rev. Masten received his Final Fellowship in 1975.
Over the years, Rev. Masten, usually accompanied by his wife, Billie Barbara Masten, toured the country in their Toyota camper, “The Homesick Snail,” giving concerts and staying at the homes of the ministers and parishioners they befriended along the way. Rev. Masten thus earned the distinction of preaching in more Unitarian Universalist churches – over five hundred in 49 states – than any other minister in history.
Rev. Masten presented his poetry in a variety of other venues as well, including schools, prisons, and civic clubs. He had a regular call-in spot on a talk radio station in Denver in the 1980s and produced a weekly newspaper column, “Words and One-Liners” for the Monterey Herald in the 1990s. These columns became the inspiration for three illustrated volumes of poetry.
Rev. Masten was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and chronicled his battle with the disease in a series of poems and blog entries, which expanded his ministry to a new community, cancer survivor groups. Rev. Masten published six books since his diagnosis, including Words and One-Liners: Take Three (Sun-Ink Presentations, 2008) and Going Out Dancing (Skinner House Books, 2008).
Masten’s other titles include Who’s Wavin’? A Thin Body of Work (1970); Sunflowers (1971); Speaking Poems (1977); Voice of the Hive (1978); His &
Hers: A Voyage Through the Middle Age Crazies, with Billie Barbara Masten (1978); Stark Naked (1980); Even As We Speak (1982); The Deserted Rooster (1982); They Are All Gone Now (1985); Notice Me! (1986); Looking for Georgia O’Keeffe (1987); Ric Masten Speaking (1990); I Know It Isn’t Funny But I Love to Make You Laugh (1996); Pacific Light: Images of the Monterey Peninsula, with Douglas Steakley (2000); and Parallel Journeys, with Dr. Larry Lachman (2003).
In addition to his own books, Rev. Masten is the subject of Troubadour and
Poet: The Magical Ministry of Ric Masten (Trafford Publishing, 2007), by Rev. Stephen Edington.
Largely ignored by literary critics throughout his career, Rev. Masten received numerous honors toward the end of his life. He was named Troubadour and People’s Poet of Carmel in 2003, Poet Laureate of Prostate Cancer by the National Prostate Cancer Coalition in 2005, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by California State University, Monterey Bay in 2007, and Champion of the Arts – Luminary by the Arts Council of Monterey County in 2008. “All you have to do is catch a fatal disease and the awards just fall out of the trees like apples,” he joked.
Rev. Masten is survived by his wife of 56 years, Billie Barbara, their four children, Jerri Masten Hansen, Dr. April F. Masten, Ellen Masten, and Stuart Masten, and five grandchildren, nearly all of whom were with him at the end, singing. Other survivors include his brother Warren Masten, sister Olga Masten, half-brothers Don Hare and Lee Hare, and step-brother James Hare.
A memorial service will be held June 20, 2008 at 1:00 p.m. at the Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula 4590 Carmel Valley Rd, Carmel, CA 93923.
Memorial donations in honor of Rev. Masten may be sent to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, 1154 Fifteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005.
Please send messages of remembrance to Ms. Billie Barbara Masten, 37931 Palo Colorado Rd, Carmel, CA 93923-8115.