Jennifer Leota GraCen (née GRAY)
I was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, the first of two daughters. Both sides of my family have a long history in Kansas. Growing up, I had a close relationship with my paternal grandmother, visiting her often. I was inspired by her love of books and learning. She was the first in my family to attend college and graduate school. I followed in her footsteps and became the second person to pursue higher education.
My deep interest in storytelling emerged in high school. I became involved in theater and forensics, acting in plays each year of my time there. I also took history classes at every opportunity. By the time I graduated, I had lettered in both history and forensics.
After high school, I attended Emporia State University with the initial intention of teaching high school history. Understanding history and the stories we tell ourselves (because every historical event is more complex than we initially learn) teaches us a lot about who we really are and who we hope to be as a people. Over time, my interests refocused; I earned my degree in Rehabilitation Services, working with people with disabilities. The focus of this work is on learning about people, who they are and what their dreams for themselves are in this world as well as understanding policies and systems and how to navigate them in order to meet the needs of the people one is serving. The work is still storytelling, just in a different form.
After graduating, I worked for several years with people with developmental disabilities in workshops and residential living facilities. I later worked with the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Child and Adult Protective Services. During that time, I discovered Unitarian Universalism, and I left my position after five years when I moved to Boston to attend seminary.
When I entered ministry, I found a place where I could combine all my interests and passions into one vocation.
In ministry, we teach one another and learn together about life and what it means to be human beings in this time and place. Ministry is all about the stories we tell ourselves and others, about how we shape our understanding in light of the world around us. It is important to understand systems and policies, how we can set up structures to support our values and our ability to work with one another. Ministry requires understanding and telling stories that range from the microcosm to the macrocosm. (Additional information about my religious upbringing and experience in seminary can be found here.) Ministry is the vocation of my soul, and my call gives me the opportunity to live a life of service and to live that life within this faith that brought me home.
Learn more on these pages:
Path to Ministry
Personal and Family Life
A Broad View of Unitarian Universalism