SOUTHBURY - Members of South Britain Congregational Church welcomed the Rev. Douglas Miller as interim minister on Sunday, September 9.
This is the first period of interim ministry for Rev. Miller, who most recently served as full-time settled pastor of United Congregational Church in Bridgeport.
He recently completed a series of classes with the Interim Ministry Network in Cleveland, Ohio, an organization that serves a number of Protestant denominations.
"I wish I'd done it years ago," the pastor told Voices. "I think it's good training for any minister. You learn how to help a church see where they are, appreciate their history and appreciate their connection with their denomination."
According to Rev. Miller, interim ministry is a relatively new idea in professional ministry.
"Interim ministers assist churches in transition," he explained. "Depending on the situation, there are five developmental tasks that usually apply. The church does the work that needs to be done - the task of an interim minister is to assist the church in those tasks.
"Of course, all churches are in transition," he added. "Change is part of life and adapting to change is a spiritual challenge. You have to discover what's important to hold onto and what's open for review."
A native of the Detroit area, Rev. Miller attended Michigan State University on a golf scholarship, receiving a B.A. in philosophy. He went on to earn a master's of divinity from Yale Divinity School and a law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.He entered Yale as a continuation of his study of philosophy, he said, with no intention to enter ordained ministry. But as a seminary student, he began a relationship with Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport that would last for 18 years.
"The pastor, Ted Hoskins, was like a mentor to me," he said. "They were a very socially active church, very involved with the homeless. That's what got me excited. I began to see possibilities for ministry that I hadn't seen before."
While at the Saugatuck church, Rev. Miller and his wife ran a group home in the parsonage for teenage girls who for a variety of reasons needed a time of separation from their families.
Over a period of about 12 years, the Millers assisted more than 200 families in this way.
"We had four girls at a time," he said. "They stayed a couple days, a couple months, a couple years."
For many years, Rev. Miller divided his time between ministry and law, serving churches in Weston and Wilton as a part-time associate pastor while practicing law in Westport.
In 2001, he became the full-time settled pastor at United Congregational Church in Bridgeport, a position he held until February of this year.
He still "dabbles" in law, he said, stopping in at his office once a week or so to check on clients' cases.
Members at SBCC were pleased to learn that Rev. Miller intends to take part in a previously arranged Confirmation Class mission trip to Biloxi, Miss., planned for February, 2008.
"I'm really looking forward to that," he said. "I've traveled all over, but aside from Florida, I've never been to the South."
Mission trips are nothing new to Rev. Miller. Every February for the past five years, he has led an adult mission trip to Central America with Rev. Hoskins, who is now 75 and retired to Maine.
"He brings a group from Maine and I bring a group from the church," he said. "We go to Monkey River in Belize, a village of about 200 people that was destroyed by a hurricane in 2001, to help them rebuild.
"It's down the coast from Cancun," he said, "but very different. Over the years we've become part of the family of the village."
He indicated that he would like to continue those yearly trips to Belize, taking along interested members of SBCC.
Rev. Miller and his wife, Jackie, met on a mission trip while teenagers. Married for 37 years, they have one son who is currently teaching in Japan.
A Fairfield resident, Rev. Miller will commute to South Britain rather than live in the parsonage. On Sundays, he expects to arrive in the wee hours of the morning, so as to be able to spend several hours meditating in the sanctuary prior to the worship service.
Rev. Miller meditates each morning and evening and considers the practice to be an important spiritual discipline.
Church members welcomed the Millers with flowers and cake at a reception after worship on September 23.
"Jackie and I have felt very warmly received," Rev. Miller said, adding that he is especially pleased to be serving in South Britain.
"This particular church is very healthy," he said. "There are some long-time members who appreciate the past and new people with new ideas and new energy. It's a very nice mix."
South Britain Congregational Church is located on Route 172 at East Flat Hill Rd. Sunday worship takes place at 10 a.m., year-round. All are welcome.
Those seeking additional information may call the church office, 203-264-5890.