Vennly Leader Spotlight: Q&A with Rev. Peter Friedrichs

Peter Friedrichs is the Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, PA.  After serving as a lay leader in various capacities and working for nearly twenty years in law and business, Peter entered the ministry in 2006. He is a graduate of Andover Newton Theological School.

Vennly: Your career started in real estate law. In your Vennly Perspectives you’ve described this part of your life as, “wearing someone else’s clothes.” Please tell us a bit more about how you came to this realization.

Peter: I spent a lot of my life following a path that was laid out before me – a path of least resistance –  rather than building and following my own path. I went to law school because I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. Then, when I graduated I went into private practice because that’s where the jobs were. From the day I started practicing, I felt like a fish out of water. And it took me nearly two decades to figure out why.

I was very successful, by conventional definitions of success. Clients were satisfied with my work, I was making a very good living, and I was on a fast-track to partnership. And I was deeply, clinically depressed. In my late 40’s I finally figured out why: I am basically a trusting person, and I was working in a profession where your primary function is to mistrust the other side, to protect your client from potential breaches of trust. When I finally figured that out, the path forward became clear. I needed to find a profession where trust is highly valued and relationships are more than just transactional.

Vennly: What advice do you have for someone who doesn’t feel fulfilled by their career but is struggling to make a change?

Peter: Something shifted for me when I stopped looking at it as “finding a job” and started thinking of it more as a “quest.” A hero’s journey, to put it in Joseph Campbell’s terms. The hero’s journey was a better fit for what I was experiencing. First, it’s hard to leave the comforts of “home.” Of what was familiar and, to some degree, comfortable. Then the call to take up the journey became too powerful to ignore. Along the way there were all sorts of perils, including facing my own demons of self-doubt and wrestling with expectations of others. There were the Siren’s songs of a cool, new opportunities that would cross my path, trying to distract me.

All this is to say, engage the quest of self-discovery. It’s probably the most important journey you’ll ever take. It isn’t about just finding a more fulfilling career. It’s about discovering and pursuing your calling. There’s a great book I recommend along these lines that helped me look at my career path in this way. “Callings” by Gregg Levoy. It’s a great place to start.

Vennly: How did your friends and family react when you told them that you were leaving your legal career for the ministry?

Peter: For those who knew me best, the reaction was “Of course!” (Or, to use my wife’s response: “Duh!”) Many saw me as a minister long before I saw myself that way. Others, of course, thought I was crazy to leave a successful, lucrative career. My father’s initial reaction were these words: “So, just exactly how poor do you want to be?” To his credit, he came around to the idea and has been very supportive ever since.

One of the critical factors for successfully pursuing your passion or your calling is the support network you’ve built around you. Naysayers aren’t welcome. I needed people to help me dream and I needed people to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. It takes both, and I needed to listen to both perspectives. I’ve always said that “leaps of faith are easy, it’s the landings you need to prepare for.” It’s much easier to jump off a cliff if you know you’ve got a good parachute, soft ground and trusted friends waiting to receive you.

Vennly: You recently traveled to San Diego to observe the migrant crisis at the Southern border. What were your reactions to what you saw?

Peter: I could preach a whole sermon around this (and I have; more than one, in fact!). My main takeaways were feelings of anger and shame. I was enraged that our nation’s policies were putting so many vulnerable people at risk for no reason. And I was ashamed to face those people on a daily basis because of it. I found myself apologizing for my country, which was a new experience for me. The only crisis at the southern border is a humanitarian crisis of our own making. And it’s one we could fix with the stroke of a pen if we but had the will to do so. I can’t tell you how many destitute and defenseless women and children fleeing violence in their home countries that I met in Tijuana who were being put at further risk of harm because of our policies that are creating a bottleneck and a barrier to their legal claims for asylum.

Vennly: What do you hope to convey through the Vennly app once it’s live?

Peter: So many of us put “religion” and “faith” into these small, confining boxes that many of us grew up in. Through the app, I’d love for users to experience the expansiveness and spaciousness of spirituality and faith. For me, faith is all about finding our way in the world. About discovering how we’re intimately connected to all that is. About learning what unique gifts we have to offer. It may sound grandiose, but I hope the Vennly app helps people find their purpose and encourages them – literally gives them courage – to go out and pursue their callings.