The 1980 MDiv graduate and trailblazer called to ministry at childhood.
CHICAGO (January 18, 2017) — A calling to ministry can come at different stages in life, but for North Park Seminary alumna Rev. Dr. Mary Miller, it came early. Rev. Dr. Miller’s calling to serve the Lord and the church was simple—she “loved the church to start with” and “absolutely loved confirmation.” The love of the Lord and people has been part of her as long she can remember.
During her undergraduate years at Western Illinois University, Rev. Dr. Miller (Miller) knew she wanted to go deeper into her Chrisitian faith, but learning opportunities were limited to one course on the works of C. S. Lewis. Shortly following graduating, Miller enrolled at North Park Theological Seminary (NPTS). At the time, few women were in seminary and Miller had an 89-mile commute from Rockford, Ill. to North Park’s Chicago campus. Instead of letting these obstacles deter her, Miller, who describers herself as “game to grow at any point,” overcame them with characteristic strength and determination.
North Park’s commitment to hospitality and educational access empowered Miller throughout her three years studying for her master of divinity. Fellow classmates welcomed her into their homes to lessen the frequency of commuting. “I slept on my friends’ couches,” recalls a grateful Miller. Though she was one of the first five female students to enter the seminary in 1977, Miller was surrounded by supportive professors. Encouraging faculty like Professor Klyne Snodgrass jested with the young seminarian: “Don’t let fear of studying Greek scare you.”
At NPTS, Miller thrived—and reveled—in the variety of Bible courses available to her. “It was like being in a deli—after state school, where there were no Bible classes offered,” says Miller, who still has all her lecture notes. When Dr. C. John Weborg retired from teaching at North Park, Miller was able to send him a copy of the notes she took on her very first day of his class.
Taking with her the practical skills and knowledge rooted in Christian classics, Miller was propelled into a career in ministry. “North Park prepared me for different ministry roles–in practical ways and of course through lifelong friendships,” says Miller. In her first call after seminary, Miller served as associate pastor at Faith Covenant Church (Farmington Hills, Mich.). In the years that followed, Miller also served the congregations of First Wayne Street United Methodist Church (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Evangelical Covenant Church (Donaldson, Ind.), and Bethel Evangelical Covenant Church (Floosmoor, Ill.). In addition, Miller contributed as a writer for The Covenant Companion and authored Devotions for Those Living with Loss (Covenant Publications, 1991).
When asked about how she has navigated different roles and served congregations ranging in size from 110 to 1,500, Miller sensibly explains, “It’s about drilling down into what really matters and not just focusing on what’s demanding your attention.” This pragmatic approach has served Miller well—notably as a trailblazer for women entering the Seminary, as the first female vice president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, as the co-chair of the Biblical Gender Equality Commission, and as a recipient of the Evelyn M. R. Johnson Leadership Award from the Association of Covenant Clergy Women in 2008.
Currently serving as Chaplain at Covenant Village in Cromwell, Conn., where she preaches to congregants ages 64 to 107, Miller refers to this stage of her life as “an interior journey.” Miller teaches “Aging as Spiritual Journey,” while making time to garden, volunteer regularly in her community, read Christian classics, which she calls “food for the soul,” and be with her two dogs. Reflecting on a career serving the church spanning close to four decades, Miller advises those who are interested in going into ministry, “Pursue ministry if God won’t allow you to let that calling go.” She also encourages those she mentors to take on challenges that might feel daunting, as she was advised early in her career. “Put on a suit that’s too big for you and grow into it,” asserts Miller.
During the evening worship at the January 31, 2017 Midwinter Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Louisville, Ky., Miller will receive the 2017 North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. Following the award presentation, North Park is hosting a reception open to all in attendance. North Park Vice President for Church Relations and Dean of the Seminary Rev. Dr. David Kersten expresses his appreciation for Miller’s legacy: “Mary’s lifelong dedication to ministry and leadership is important to recognize and on behalf of North Park Theological Seminary, North Park University, and the Evangelical Covenant Church, we are thrilled that she has been selected to receive this award.”
Mary K. Surridge, Vice President for Advancement, adds, “On behalf of the entire alumni community of North Park Theological Seminary, we congratulate Rev. Dr. Miller and offer our deepest thanks for her extraordinary life of service and leadership.”
Recognized as a true leader with a style that’s both equipping and encouraging, and with ministry gifts in teaching and pastoral care, Miller has served North Park on the Board of Trustees and Seminary Board of Advisors. Miller concludes, “I am deeply honored to receive this award.”