Rev. Rebecca Lemenager (’01) was only seven when she knew she wanted to be a minister. All she needed was fertile soil in which to nurture that calling. Mizpah United Church of Christ (Mizpah), her home congregation in Hopkins, Minnesota, provided that nurture. Now, as Mizpah comes to the end of its life as a church, members have decided to provide a legacy of support for new pastors by establishing the Mizpah Church, United Church of Christ, Endowed Scholarship at United for UCC students who pursue ministry.
Mizpah’s vital ministry spanned 125 years, providing a place for worship and spiritual formation as well as community support. Members played an active role by supporting a teen clinic, the Crisis Nursery, Loaves and Fishes, and more. In closing, they are making final financial gifts to those long supported groups. Their gift of the scholarship to United will hold the Mizpah name in perpetuity.
As decisions were being made, Linda Williams, a member of the Mizpah council, advocated for the new scholarship. Her husband, who attended the University of Minnesota in Duluth (UMD), started a scholarship fund with his college friends to support new UMD business students. That practice, and Rebecca’s urging, inspired them to find a way to support new ministers.
“It is really important to help people who want to become ministers,” Linda says. “We don’t want the cost of seminary to be a barrier.”
Rebecca adds, “When pastors graduate with debt, they have to make decisions about where they are called based on the compensation a congregation can provide. Having less debt opens up the possibility of serving a smaller congregation.”
Mizpah and United have many connections. Both Rebecca and her mother, Betty Wentworth (’86), were United graduates. Rev. Coqui Conkey (’02), currently the Interim Pastor at Urbandale UCC, also came to United from Mizpah. Over the years, many pastors, interns, and students crossed paths from United to Mizpah and from Mizpah to United. Both places were known for their love of the arts and theological depth, both inviting people to wrestle with important questions.
Ordained 21 years ago, Rebecca has served a variety of churches. For the last decade, she has been working at the Virginia Public Library, but on Sundays, you will find her answering her call in new ways. Last year, she provided pulpit supply 30 Sunday mornings for churches in five different denominations. She appreciates the fact that United broadened her understanding and passion for ecumenism. This year, she plans on doing even more pulpit supply, believing that supporting churches that might not be able to otherwise afford a pastor is a valuable service.
Rebecca loved her time at United, stating that it prepared her well for what she is doing with the right mix of academic rigor, social justice, and pastoral care woven together. “We live in a polarized, hurting world. We need people who are willing to have a vision of what this world can be, leaders who can share that vision. United helped me learn those skills.”
Rebecca goes on to say, “Most of us knew we weren’t going to become The Rev. Peter Gomes at Harvard, but that didn’t mean that we weren’t going to change a little piece of the world. That is true of Mizpah also. They weren’t ever the biggest church in the conference, but in small and important ways, we changed the little corner of our community.”
Through the creation of this endowed scholarship, Mizpah’s125 years of ministry will persist in a new form, transforming little pieces of the world through congregational ministry.