Called home: Birth of pastor’s son a ‘special connection’ for rural churchDAVENPORT, N.D. - The Rev. Beth Rohn-Habhegger was the last baby born to a pastor serving Canaan Moravian Church in rural Cass County.
By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM
DAVENPORT, N.D. - The Rev. Beth Rohn-Habhegger was the last baby born to a pastor serving Canaan Moravian Church in rural Cass County.
Now, 40 years later, she lives in what was once her childhood home, she serves as pastor at the same church where her father used to minister, and on Feb. 6 she gave birth to her second child, Anders Habhegger, the first baby born to a pastor serving the church since her own birth.
“It’s special. It’s coming full circle,” Rohn-Habhegger said. “I never in my life dreamed that would happen.”
Rohn-Habhegger didn’t expect to be called to serve the congregation of Canaan Moravian. It’s rare for pastors to serve in churches where they were baptized, she said.
But two years ago she accepted the call to serve the same church where her father, the Rev. Denny Rohn, began his pastoral career.
“I just smiled,” her dad said.
Rohn was 24 when he became pastor at Canaan Moravian, where he worked from 1970 to 1975, but says he still feels like a member of that congregation.
“I tell people seminary trained me to be a minister but Canaan taught me what it meant to be a pastor,” said Rohn, now retired and living in Ohio, where he still fills in for pastors from time to time.
Chuck and Dorothy Albright of Lynchburg, N.D., were members of Canaan Moravian when Rohn was pastor. Chuck Albright was also involved in Rohn-Habhegger’s call to serve the church.
They say she is an excellent preacher and see both her father and mother in the way she delivers sermons.
“I don’t think that the acorn fell too far away from the tree,” Chuck Albright said.
“We are fortunate to have her here,” added Dorothy Albright.
Sharon Saewert of West Fargo has been a member of Canaan Moravian for 45 years. She visited Rohn-Habhegger in the hospital after she was born and recently helped throw a baby shower for Rohn-Habhegger’s son, Anders.
“It’s a special connection,” Saewert said. “We all remember when her family was here to begin with. It’s special that she’s back.”
Rohn-Habhegger says she has known since she was 7 years old that she wanted to be a pastor.
“I kind of fought it when I was a teenager, but by the time I graduated college, seminary wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when,” she said. “Growing up, I was always kind of the outsider. I was never part of the in crowd. I was teased and never really felt like I belonged except when I was in church or at church camp. That was the one place I knew I was loved. I was accepted. I could be me and that was OK.”
Her mom, who died in 2008, went through a year of seminary and would fill in occasionally for her father, so Rohn-Habhegger says she was used to seeing women in the pulpit.
Rohn says his daughter has always seemed spiritually ahead of her age.
“I had an inkling she would end up going into the ministry when she was 6,” he said.
Still, he never mentioned it to her.
When she told her parents what she wanted to do, Rohn-Habhegger says they tried to talk her out of it.
“With four girls, the expectation was that one of us would go into what we referred to as ‘the family business,’ ” she said. “They didn’t want me to go into the ministry because it was an expectation. They wanted me to make sure that I was doing it because I felt that’s what God wanted for me.”
While Rohn-Habhegger talked about going into ministry, she also talked about wanting to be an actress on Broadway, her father said.
When she graduated college, she knew she wasn’t spiritually or emotionally ready for ministry, so she spent two years working as an attractions hostess and character at Disney World and interning at a nearby Moravian church.
That experience, she says, really helped her understand that working as a pastor was where God wanted her to be.
Canaan Moravian is the third congregation Rohn-Habhegger has served. Her first congregation was also a church her dad served, and she says that one was more of a challenge.
During her interview, one woman shared a story about babysitting her as a kindergartener. Someone else told her within her first few months that it was so nice having her there because it was almost like having her father back, she said.
“That was more of a challenge those first few years when I was really trying to establish more of my own ministry and being constantly compared,” she said. “Here it’s been a gift because he’s so well-respected and he’s loved, and it’s allowed a level of trust with the congregation from the get-go that usually most pastors have to work toward.
“The congregation knows I love them and I know that they love me.”
Within months someone from Canaan Moravian told Rohn-Habhegger she was one of them and it was nice to have her back.
“I felt honored because it wasn’t about being Denny’s daughter, it was about being one of us,” she said. “That’s something that a lot of pastors have to work toward and it was a gift that was given to me.”
That members of the congregation threw her a baby shower showed her how much they support her, Rohn-Habhegger said.
“It really shows the connection that I have with the congregation,” she said. “It’s a blessing, it really is. Because I live so far away from my family, it’s nice to know that I have that support.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526