REV. NATALIE FENIMORE'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY:
I was born in Birmingham, Alabama but grew up in Detroit, Michigan.
My parents married very young and had children very quickly. That was not unusual in the South in the 1950's but there were many pressures on a young Black couple without many options for employment, housing, or education in the segregated American South and so my parents separated when I was a preschooler and later divorced. My mother took her children to live in Detroit, Michigan where two of her older brothers had moved for greater employment options. My mother became a nurse and eventually purchased a house. She was a very proud woman. She was also demanding. She pushed her children to achieve in school. As our Detroit neighborhood was devastated, first by the riots, then crime and drugs, I came to see school as a refuge.
I had some wonderful teachers who pointed me toward possibilities beyond my neighborhood. And although my mother was not a big church goer, there was the culture of the “Black” church all around me – and that is a culture of hope.
Education became a gateway to another world for me. Education gave me hope. I left Detroit for college and never went back there to live. I eventually went to live and work in Chicago. In Chicago I learned that I love art museums, cooking, ethnic foods, and the beauty of people. I learned that I can be independent and create my own environment. I can choose the right friends. I have decision-making skills. I can rise to a challenge, live and grow.
I met my husband in Chicago. I have been married to Charles Fenimore since 1982. Chuck is an applied mathematician working for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce. In our time together, he has worked on problems in fluid flows, digital imaging and medical imaging. It is interesting to live with someone who does work that I really don't understand but who continues to draw me into conversation with him because of his obvious passion and awe.
Chuck is an avid bicyclist and lover of the outdoors. He is also a pianist and has sung tenor in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville's choir for 30 years.
Chuck grew up a Unitarian in upstate New York. He attended the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady. And when we moved to Maryland for his post-doctorate work, we sought out the nearest Unitarian Universalist Congregation – mostly for the choir. We began attending the Unitarian Church of Rockville – now the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockville 30 years ago.
Now, I had never been to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I really knew nothing about Unitarian Universalism. And so with the curiosity of the newcomer, I began to explore the theology and to do a little bit of everything in congregational life. I cooked for church potlucks and brunches, folded the newsletter, worked in clean-up days, taught
religious education classes, served on the Worship Committee and served on the Board. Along the way, I learned to love Unitarian Universalist theology. The theology challenged me intellectually, and spiritually.
During my 30 years at Rockville, I have also come to love the people. I came to them as a young Black woman. The congregation was generally middle-aged and almost exclusively White. I was from an urban background and the congregation was suburban. In the early 1980's there was a strong anti-Christian rhetoric in the congregation and I am very proud of the African American Christian tradition that was present for me in the community in which I grew up. The Rockville congregation and I managed to care for one another despite our differences. This modeled what Unitarian Universalism could be.
I also became a mother. My children, John and Helen, were born in 1984 and 1987. Being a mother is central to my identity. It has given me my greatest joy and caused my most profound ache.
My children are also what led me to ministry. I began as a religious education teacher and became a religious educator. I found my call to ministry as a religious educator.
My first position as a religious educator was a part time position at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring. Soon after I arrived, the congregation had a negotiated settlement with the minister. Within four months of becoming a director of religious education, I found myself “holding down the fort.” While it was definitely unexpected, it was a very exciting time. I learned a great deal about many areas of congregational life outside of religious education. And I worked with wonderful lay leaders.
I served for four years at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church. I served with co-ministers and got to experience collaborative staff planning. Significantly, the congregation experienced a devastating fire in one of it's two buildings. I was challenged to organize an off-site religious education program for over a year while re-building took place. I took this an an opportunity for community building. It was also a time of reflection on the core of the religious education program and it's centrality to the life of the congregation. Both the religious education program and I learned about our flexibility and resilience.
I came to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax in 2005. I was attracted by the opportunity to serve as a full time religious educator in a large Unitarian Universalist congregation. When I arrived the congregation was led by an interim senior minister and an Associate Minister. While the congregation had 566 adult members and 270 children and youth, they were still recovering from a difficult parting with their senior minister. I was hired in the Spring and the new senior minister followed in the fall of 2005. Over the years the congregation has grown in numbers: 400 children and youth registered and over 750 adult members. It is amazing to be in the middle of this very active place. The congregation has also grown in confidence and maturity. The Unitarian
Universalist Congregation of Fairfax was awarded recognition as a Breakthrough Congregation at General Assembly 2011.
It is wonderful to be a part of a program team that includes a Parish Minister, director of Music and Arts, Associate Minister – we make beautiful worship together – I love the collaboration and sharing of gifts and talents. I also have an opportunity to learn and grow as an administrator. In this large congregation, I have found many opportunities to provide pastoral care.
I attended Wesley Theological Seminary and completed my field education and hospital chaplaincy while working as the religious educator at Fairfax. During my sabbatical year, I was a ministerial intern at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (VA) where I was able to experience being solely in the role of parish minister. As an intern, I was also very involved in the congregation's Capital Campaign and gained experience and comfort talking about money.
I have been blessed with the support of ministerial colleagues who have generously given me the space in which to explore my ministerial identity. And I have had the support of the congregations I have served on my journey to ordained ministry.
I want to bring all my experiences: personal and professional forward into this new ministry.