More than 125 people gathered at Hamline University in St. Paul Tuesday night to celebrate the leadership of Bishop Bruce and Char Ough—and to launch an endowed scholarship in their names.
So far, $110,000 has been given or pledged for the endowment, which will provide funding to award an annual scholarship to a Hamline University undergraduate student discerning a call to vocational ministry. The goal is $200,000. (Donations can be made here.)
“I am the product of a mentoring culture,” Bishop Ough told attendees at the event. “I was not born a leader; I was raised to be a leader by others who very intentionally invested in me…By the time I responded to God’s call and headed to seminary, I knew that a major portion of my ministry was to multiply myself as a leader. I have attempted to pay my leadership debt forward ever since. This endowed scholarship for Hamline undergraduate students preparing for vocational ministry is one element—an important piece—of investing in this commitment.”
Bishop Ough was elected and consecrated as a bishop in July 2000. He served the West Ohio Area from 2000-2012 and has been resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area since Sept 1, 2012.
Over the past seven years, under Bishop Ough’s steady leadership, the Minnesota Conference launched The ELI Project, a summer internship program that places college students into host churches to explore vocational ministry firsthand; increased its clergy recruitment efforts; and developed a process to provide training, peer learning, and spiritual growth opportunities for clergy from recruitment through retirement. He helped the Dakotas-Minnesota Area secure a $1 million Lilly grant to address economic challenges facing pastors. Bishop Ough has also been a leader on the Connectional Table and within the Council of Bishops and denomination as The United Methodist Church has navigated its future.
Bishop and Char Ough are a team in their commitment to supporting ministry. Char has been a steady friend and champion for clergy and their families and has a heart for clergy spouses.
At Tuesday’s event, which included a dinner and special music from jazz band Fuzzy Math, several people reflected on and shared words of gratitude for the Oughs’ leadership.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson, the Minnesota Conference’s director of connectional ministries, said she first met Bishop Ough in 2000, when she was a delegate to the North Central Jurisdiction Conference and he was a bishop candidate. Her observations about him were that he was smart, strategic, insightful, articulate, and had a clear vision for the church. She said those same attributes have been ever present during Bishop Ough’s leadership in Minnesota over the past seven years—but what she’s appreciated most is his heart.
“This is a man who loves Jesus deeply, and it shows up all the time in his preaching and his teaching and his leadership,” she said. She reflected that one of the things she learned early on working with Bishop Ough is that he doesn’t settle. “He loves Jesus and the church and me and us way too much to settle for anything less than the fullness of who we can be,” she said. “I’m better—we’re better—because Bishop Ough does not let us settle when it comes to the future of the church.”
Meanwhile, Joe Meinholz, a 2017 ELI Project intern, told attendees that he was taught early in life that church leadership should come from pastors. Throughout his internship with the Minnesota Conference, he was struck by the trust and opportunities given to young leaders. “I discovered that maybe God can work through me too,” he said.
Meinholz recounted sitting around a dinner table with Bishop Ough and the other ELI interns two years ago. Ough was then president of the Council of Bishops, and the interns asked him: How are you going to lead the denomination through a special General Conference?
“The way he responded has stuck with me,” said Meinholz. “He started and ended with a simple affirmation that God’s Spirit was working—not necessarily to save the denomination or make it go how we would like—and our job was to follow her lead through this. To me, that demonstrated the profound humility and courage it takes to commit your life work to this institution.”
Rev. Dr. Curtiss P. DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches, described Bishop Ough as “a practical visionary, an administrative innovator, and a cautious risk-taker.”
“May this scholarship bless many students here at Hamline University and may one of those students—she or he—be a future bishop in the Minnesota Annual Conference,” said DeYoung.
The United Methodist Higher Education Foundation (UMHEF) is facilitating the endowed scholarship and played a key role in organizing the event. Robert Fletcher, its president, expressed appreciation for Bishop Ough’s ministry.
“I do get to work with a lot of bishops, and I want to express appreciation for you loaning him to the global United Methodist Church,” said Fletcher. “We’re going through challenging times, and that’s painful for many of us…There’s not one solitary bishop that could have done the job he has done in the midst of this.”
UMHEF sponsored the event, along with the Minnesota Conference, Hamline University, and the Minnesota United Methodist Foundation.
“This endowed scholarship initiative is not about us—it is about the next generation of spiritual leaders we are all called to call forth, support, and mentor,” Bishop Ough told those gathered. “I believe preparing the next generation of leaders is every leader’s responsibility and, ultimately, the legacy I want to leave.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.