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A ministry and life cut short by cancer: In Memory of Nancy Shaffer

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer
August 11, 1950 – June 5, 2012

The Rev. Nancy Morgan Shaffer, a Unitarian Universalist minister known both for her poetry and for cutting-edge work in the ministry of lifespan faith development, died Tuesday, June 5th, at her home in Davis, after a yearlong struggle with cancer.

She was born Aug. 11, 1950, as Nancy Kathryn Brooks, the only daughter of Marjorie Ruth Tallmon Brooks and Lee Murphy Brooks. She was the sister of Michael Raymond Brooks, and the niece of George William Rutledge Tallmon and Robert Tallmon. She was married for two years to William Limon of Atascadero; they had no children.

She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from University of California, Davis, in 1972 and received certification in psychology at Sacramento State University, before beginning a career as a school psychologist in Vacaville and in the Chicago public schools.

She studied for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry, where she earned a Master of Divinity degree. She served an internship under the Rev. Dr. Frederic Muir in Annapolis, MD, where she was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in October 2003. Rev. Shaffer served as Interim Minister of Religious Education in Monterey, CA, 2004-05; Parish Minister in Glen Allen, VA, 2005-07; Interim Minister of Religious Education in Evanston, IL, 2007-08, and Associate Minister for Religious Education in Ann Arbor, MI, from 2008 to 2012. It was during this settlement that she was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer.

Rev. Shaffer was grateful to the Rev. Chris Fry, who encouraged her to submit her poems to Skinner House, which published them in 2002 as a Unitarian Universalist Meditation Manual, Instructions in Joy. Of  her poetry, the late Rev. Dr. Forrest Church wrote, “Nancy’s world is riddled with epiphanies, her kitchen table an altar set for communion, her anger pure, her sorrow sacramental. Nancy reaches my soul.”

A volume of poetry and journal entries she wrote chronicling her year of living with a brain tumor is expected to be forthcoming soon as “Large Enough Thanks: Ministry After a Brain Tumor.”

As a minister, Rev. Shaffer was known among her colleagues and congregants as a deeply spiritual presence. Her work with children invited them gently into mystery and awe, especially through art and through original stories that presented possibility far more than conclusion.

Rev. Shaffer is survived by her parents, Marjorie and Lee Brooks. She leaves special, beloved colleagues, including the Rev. Beth Banks, the Rev. Roger Jones, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, the Rev. David Keyes, and the Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz. She also leaves beloved friends, including MaryAnn Gholson, to whom she was grateful for organizing and providing end of life care. And, she leaves two beloved cats, Eliza and Hope.

She was a member of both the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis and St. Martins Episcopal Church.

A Memorial Celebration of Rev. Shaffer’s life will be held on Friday, June 15, at 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Living Tradition Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

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