Westminster Presbyterian turns 150 with a unique mission

Westminster Presbyterian turns 150 with a unique mission
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Westminster Presbyterian Church on the campus of The College of Wooster, which turned 150 years old this month, moved into its present location in September 1965 and is host to many activities and groups.

                        

When you’re able to celebrate 150 years of almost anything, you’re probably doing a lot of things right. That’s definitely the case for Wooster’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

The place of worship started long ago by students at The College of Wooster who wanted a place of their own to practice their faith turned 150 on May 10 and has celebrated the milestone by doing what it does best: helping those with a particular need.

In this case the church, led by the Rev. Dr. Enikő Ferenczy, has been focusing on those struggling to pay medical bills — or as many as it can get to. With huge numbers of Americans drowning in medical debt, there’s no way to get to all of them, but Ferenczy and her flock are doing what they can.

More on that later. First, a bit about the church itself, which began very humbly in 1874 when about three dozen students organized the Brainerd Missionary Society, named for Dave Brainerd, who served as a missionary to Native Americans in Massachusetts in pre-Revolutionary War times.

The church quickly moved from its initial 32 members to 88. Ferenczy said the church has a 106-member congregation at present, a number she said is holding steady.

Dr. T.F. Davis became Westminster’s first minister in 1889. Prior to that, college presidents served as preachers, though not pastors.

Overcoming fires — one in 1901 destroyed the original chapel — and societal change, the church eventually made its way to its present location in September 1965 and is host to many activities and groups including Boy Scout Troop 61, which is more than 100 years old itself.

“Some of the things people highlighted as we were reflecting on who we are, things have changed so much,” Ferenczy said. “The church was founded in 1874 by students at the college who wanted a church for themselves. For a long time, Westminster was the church of the college. As societal changes happened and the college moved away from its Presbyterian roots, society became more secular. More people joined the church because they were drawn to Westminster.”

As an institution sitting on the campus of a liberal arts college, the church encourages acceptance and critical thinking.

“They were drawn to participate for various voices and an educated faith and an informed faith,” Ferenczy said. “At Westminster questions are OK, and doubts are OK. That was always a big attraction for people — also, that we are also an intentionally welcoming congregation who welcomes people from all walks of life. I think that’s also a meaningful reason why we are here.”

That and pushing initiatives to help those in need, the latest of which has been a huge undertaking that has gone throughout 2024. Working with Undue Medical Debt — formerly RIP Medical Debt — the church is looking to help those in debt in Wayne and adjacent counties.

The campaign against debt is known as the Mustard Seed Campaign, inspired by Mark 4:30-32. Ferenczy cited some numbers that also inspired the movement such as half of Americans choose between paying medical bills and paying for their basic needs, nearly half of adult Americans delay or skip paying medical bills due to the high cost, half of U.S. adults are unable to afford an unexpected $500 bill, and two-thirds of bankruptcies happen at least in part because of medical debt.

Undue uses analytics to identify those most in need of help — households earning less than four times the national poverty level or those owing more than 5% of their annual income. The firm then buys the debt at a discount. Estimates say a donation of $100 can wind up covering $10,000 in medical debt.

“We resonated with this because we have all types of ministries and have always had that within the ministry of Westminster,” Ferenczy said. “Undue is working for people because (medical debt) is the reality of our time.”

The campaign has thus far been an overwhelming success. Ferenczy said the church reached its initial goal of raising $10,000 in four months. A second $10,000 initiative was added, and she said having reached more than $19,000 heading into May, the church should hit that mark by the time the campaign ends on June 2.

The church, which celebrated its milestone anniversary at its May 5 worship services, decided last fall on the move toward helping those in debt. Ferenczy said it was an easy decision, and the idea was met with no resistance.

“As we started planning the anniversary last fall, there was a clear consensus in the planning committee,” she said. “We would like to show who we are at the present, and as we look forward, this congregation has always made it important to bridge beyond the walls and work in the community. This anniversary project is one way of doing that.

“Then as we were encouraging people and talking about what ways we can plan for our anniversary, one member of the congregation brought this idea forward, and it was immediately welcomed by the planning committee.”

Those wishing to help Westminster with the Mustard Seed Campaign can visit https://unduemedicaldebt.org/campaign/mustard-seed/ and click the orange Donate button. For other information email wpcwooster@gmail.com.


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