Jane Rzepka receives Distinguished Service Award
The Friday morning plenary included a heartfelt moment when the Rev. Dr. Jane Ranney Rzepka received the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Distinguished Service Award. She is stepping down as senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which she has led for the past 10 years.
The award was presented by Joan Lund, second vice moderator of the UUA Board of Trustees, and the Rev. Mark Belletini of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, Ohio, a longtime friend of Rzepka’s.
Ordained in 1977, Rzepka served a five-year ministry at Winchester, Mass. and 15 years at Reading, Mass., before becoming CLF senior minister. CLF, the UUA’s largest congregation, serves about 3,500 UUs, many of them isolated by geography or circumstances. In Rzepka’s tenure the CLF added more than 1,000 members and began ministries to people in prisons and in the military. Other members of the CLF may also belong to their local congregations, but feel the need for additional spiritual sustenance through the CLF.
In 2005, the CLF established the Church of the Younger Fellowship online to serve mainly young people. It now has hundreds of members.
Belletini noted that Rzepka “has made Unitarian Universalism available to thousands of people outside our congregational walls.” He called her a “minister’s minister,” who, in addition to her ministry to CLF, has served on boards of the UU Ministers’ Association and the Starr King School for the Ministry, her alma mater. In 1990 she delivered the sermon at the annual Service of the Living Tradition at General Assembly. For 13 years she taught a class on preaching.
Belletini observed, “She is one of the clearest articulators of what it means to be a UU today.” She is the author of a UUA meditation manual and coauthor of a book on preaching. Last year the Distinguished Service Award went to the Rev. Alice Blair Wesley. Other recipients have included Jerry and Denny Davidoff and the Rev. Forest Church.
Rzepka, who received two standing ovations during the award ceremony, said she was “flabbergasted and honored” to receive the award, adding that although she has written sermons for many occasions, “I don’t have words for an occasion like this.
She then went on describe the church of her youth which was so small that the whole congregation came on Wednesdays to swim in her family’s pond. “I think back to my spiritual development and I see UUs of all different sizes, dripping with pond muck, mud between their toes . . . no different from those gathered here in this room.”
She added, “It is gratitude that I feel. You have been my springboard, my comfort, my inspiration and my joy.” Rzepka plans to publish a book of sermons and CLF newsletter columns for Skinner House.