Whenever I read a book that has an “Acknowledgements” section, I read it. When I go to the movies (or more recently, stream one), I always stay until the end of the credits. Sometimes they are funny or entertaining in their own right, but that’s not why I stay. I stay because it always impresses me how many people go into the creation of a book or a movie or … really anything at all.
In one particular book—and I will never manage to remember which one—I recall the author calling their personal thank-you list of names the “without whom department.” As in, these are the people without whom I would not have been able to do this work. Of course there are thank-yous for editors, agents, publishers, and other professionals. But there are also thank-yous for longtime friends, for partners, for readers, for pets, for the staff of favorite restaurants…
Over and over again, the message is the same: I could not have done this alone. I could not have done this without you. When I think about all that had to happen for THIS to happen, for me to be here doing this thing I adore, I am gobsmacked to think of it. I am filled with waves of gratitude so large they bowl me over.
Dearest community of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, when I start making my own lists—when I try to come up with my own “without whom department” of people who have enabled me to pursue ordained ministry, who have loved me and supported me and cheered me on every step of the way, I must begin with you. I would not be a Unitarian Universalist without you, and I certainly would not have found my path to ministry without finding this faith!
Not all of you know me, but I assure you, you are still a part of this story. Because this community is more than one person, it is the power of people acting together. I joined UUCC in 2012, fell in love with the community, and started volunteering. I became trained as an OWL facilitator in 2013.
I became a Youth Advisor in 2014 and was hired as part-time Youth Director in 2016, where I served until 2019. I entered Meadville Lombard Theological School, a Unitarian Universalist identity seminary, in the summer of 2017, and I graduated on May 16, 2021. I left my Youth Director position to serve as the Intern Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick (MD) from September 2019 until…this week!
And there are a thousand stories I could weave into and out of the outline above. All of these are the reasons you will see, when you look at the agenda for this Sunday’s Annual Meeting, “Ordination of Jen Raffensperger.” In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, the road to ordained ministry is a long one. After receiving my Master of Divinity degree, after completing my internship, and after an interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee where I was invited into preliminary ministerial fellowship… after all this, no one can ordain me but a congregation. It is the right and privilege of the people of each UU congregation to affirm the journey of ministerial formation they have been witness to, have been instrumental in shaping.
I am asking two congregations to endorse my ministry in this way—the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, where I have served as intern minister, and you, beloved UUCC. Without whom I would never have made it here at all.