Impact Story: Cana Roth

March 21, 2023

Cana Roth is continuing her family’s legacy – with a twist. Her father and grandfather were both pastors. Roth never dreamed she, too, would be leading a church. But in January, 2015, she became the first female pastor of Elliott Avenue Baptist Church in Springfield, Illinois.

When Roth graduated from Houghton College with a degree in Communication with a minor in Music, she planned to build a career in either television production or theater. “As I tried making my way down that career path, nothing seemed to be working out for me,” she said. “In the year following college I found myself in a place I did not expect – living with my parents, broke, and working two part-time jobs. I felt like I had made a wrong turn somewhere and my life was shaping up to be a failure, and that’s when God broke in.”

She’d felt called to ministry during high school, but had some pretty definite ideas about what this call would look like. “I did not want to follow in my father and grandfather’s footsteps,” she said. She chafed at the thought of attending seminary because she felt this was a choice only for those planning to pastor a church. This was something Roth could not imagine for herself.

“I was talking with my mother one night about my frustrations with life. She said that I should think about attending seminary. I told her that I had never thought of myself pastoring a church, and she simply said, ‘Well I have.’ I knew God was speaking through my mother and finally consented to consider seminary.”

Northern was first on Roth’s list as it was close to family. “It was after I had come for a visit and spoke with staff and faculty that I knew Northern was my top choice,” she said. “The passion for Christ and the Church was very evident in everyone I met at Northern during that first visit – I just really felt led by God that this was the place for me.”

She didn’t want to take on any more student loan debt to pay for additional schooling, so she prayed that if God wanted her to attend Northern, he’d have to provide for her to do so. To her amazement, she received a full tuition scholarship through the Kern Family Foundation.

“I began at Northern in the Fall of 2010, not really knowing what God had in mind for me,” she said. “The most influential classes for me were worship, theology, and missions courses. These were the classes that excited, challenged, and grew me the most. All the faculty I studied under at Northern were wonderful. Yet, I would have to say that the most influential instructors for me were Dr. Karen Walker-Freeburg, Dr. Alistair Brown, Dr. Michael Quicke, and Dr. David Fitch. Each of these professors challenged me in various ways in my life and ministry, while also supporting and encouraging me every step of the way, but most of all they shared their love of Jesus and of his Church both inside and outside the classroom.”

Seminary clarified the call God had placed on Cana Roth’s life years earlier. “Through the course of my three years at Northern, God made it known what he was preparing me for. In the Spring of 2013, I graduated with an M.Div. and was called to my first church in the fall of 2014.” Today, thanks to her education at Northern, she’s prepared to build on her family’s heritage of service in this generation.