For 24 years the Rev. Dr. Reppa Cottrell was minister at the North Scituate Baptist Church. She retired from that post some six years ago. She started there in 1993 in a co-pastorate with her husband the Rev. Daniel Cottrell.
In today’s world a quarter century in the same pulpit is a good deal more unusual than it was in the 1950s when church attendance in the United States was at its highest ever.
For Cottrell, 71, her time in Scituate was the manifestation of what had originally drawn her to the ministry, an opportunity to lead the people of an organization that was working to serve the community according to the teachings of the Christian faith. It was her calling. It was her path.
Her decision to retire in 2017 from the position came during a period of reflection in which an inner conviction took shape that convinced her it was time to go. She candidly explains that she didn’t know exactly where she was headed, but, just as it had been at other crossroads moments in her life, she was certain the answer would emerge. In her view, God would make it clear.
She confides, “when I left, I shed more tears than I did in all the 24 years I was there, but I knew great things were ahead for that church, but I also knew it was time for me to witness them from afar.”
As she talks it becomes clear that trusting her instincts in life has always been a fundamental part of her discernment process. God will make it clear is her take.
Born Reppa Hixson, she is one of four siblings. She was raised in Washington, Pennsylvania, a city in the southwestern part of the Keystone State. She says that from the 3rd grade on she knew that she wanted to be a preacher.
“I had just read a story about a missionary who was tortured in a wind tunnel and survived, and I said, well I can do that,” she recounts. However, the common wisdom of the times held that females did not become ministers.
“So, I said, OK, I will be a nun, but I was raised Presbyterian, and I was told there were no Presbyterian nuns. So, then I said I will be a missionary.” Alas, none of those options seemed open to her at that point in time. For the moment, she accepted the situation. However, the idea of being a minister never left her.
She went on to become the first member of her family to go to college, where she prepared to be a teacher. After graduation from California University of Pennsylvania she taught high school math for seven years.
However, her commitment to her faith must have shone through during her time in the classroom.
She tells how a student came up to her and said, “why are you here instead of at church?” The pupil wasn’t being impertinent. Apparently, her religious inclination was evident in whatever she did.
By this time she had married Daniel, who was already an ordained minister when they met.
“I wasn’t looking to get married at all,” she says with a smile. “Daniel was a gift.”
It took several invitations to go on a blind date with him before she agreed, but she confesses that when she heard his voice from another room before they even saw one another she said to herself “I want to know where he is for the rest of my life.” Within seven months they were married.
After sharing the reference to seven months she points out that she has a special feeling about numbers and dates attached to her experiences. For instance her and Daniel’s wedding date was 7/7/77 at 7 p.m.
When she told her husband what the student had said about her belonging in church, she hadn’t yet thought a career change from teacher to pastor was a real possibility.
“Dan said to me that I should consider it. I thought about it, and I realized that I had felt called to the ministry many times already in my life,” she relates.
The times were changing, and women were indeed entering the ranks of the ministry in ever-increasing numbers. So she applied to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where she earned a Master of Divinity degree and became an ordained minister. Later on she also obtained a doctorate in spiritual guidance from Andover Newton Theological School.
She and Daniel hadn’t thought about moving to New England, but when opportunities appeared here, they came east. That was in 1983.
One of Reppa’s grandfathers was a dairy farmer and the other had a sheep farm. Both she and Daniel wanted to be in a rural setting.
“Living in the city took so much energy out of me. I wanted a place that didn’t have a sidewalk in front,” Reppa declares. So after each of them had filled pulpits in Massachusetts cities, Scituate, Rhode Island, was a good fit.
Looking back on their service, Reppa comments “I think we were successful because we took the perspective that Jesus is about love, forgiveness, and acceptance. God loves you and wants a relationship with you. So, why avoid it? I take religion as a personal relationship with Christ.”
The Cottrells live in Coventry now. They have two children, a son Joshua, who resides in Kentucky, and a daughter Rachel Reichert, who lives in Chepachet, and they have five grandchildren.
Since retiring from North Scituate Baptist Church, Reppa has been working as an interim pastor. Currently, she is serving in that capacity at the First Baptist Church in Wickford.
“I’ve never been in a coastal village (as a pastor) before. I love the people. I love what I do. As long as God gives me the voice and the brain to do it I can’t see myself not doing it. I will continue serving somewhere as a pastor until I lose my voice or until I can’t put a sermon together anymore.”
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