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Nebraska native travels Oregon Trail to fill pulpit

Oregon City’s United Methodist Church this month welcomed a new pastor, the Rev. Michael Benischek. 

by: PHOTO COURTESY: OREGON CITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH - Rev. Michael BenischekBorn in Lincoln, Neb., Benischek, 39, grew up in a small town of 300 just north of the historic Oregon Trail. He attended Nebraska Wesleyan University and studied business. Working his way through college, he found work at a megachurch where he found his calling into the ministry. 

After graduation, Benischek enrolled in a Kansas City seminary. When he was ordained at age 24, he became the youngest pastor in the United Methodist Church in Nebraska.  

Since then, he has served as an associate pastor at an 800-member church in Omaha and as a senior pastor in Grand Island, Neb. But his third church assignment proved the most challenging — starting a new congregation from scratch. In six years, Benischek and his family built Prairie View United Methodist Church for 150 worshippers.

After that accomplishment, the Benischeks, now a family of five, wanted an adventure. They had long decided that they didn’t want to live in the same state their whole lives. 

Benischek and his wife, Stephanie, opened up a map to discuss their options. She wanted oceans and he wanted mountains — both lacking in Nebraska. 

In 2012, a church in Woodburn called six days before a church in New Hampshire did.

“We followed the old trail all the way here,” Benischek said. “We fought wildfires, hunger, thirst — even had to bury a loved one in Wyoming along the way, a beloved pet guinea pig that didn’t finish the trip.”

For the past year, they have been serving the United Methodist Church in Woodburn, south of Oregon City. 

“We thought we’d be there a lot longer,” Benischek said. “They liked us, we liked them. Everything was on an upswing for that church. But a surprise retirement in Oregon City changed all of that.”

Early in 2012, the Rev. Gerry Hill announced his retirement from Oregon City United Methodist Church, 18955 South End Road. “With all of the youth, programming and ministries of the OCUMC, it seems like a natural fit,” Benischek said. “It’s been a long journey to get to Oregon City, but worth it.”




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