Ruth Miller ’08: 20-year History of Seminary Study

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On her career as a church educator and her 20-year history of seminary study

Alumna Ruth MillerRuth Miller, of Coopersburg, PA (MAR 2008), wondered aloud if she held the record for the longest number of years matriculating to LTSP.

She took her first course in Old Testament with Professor Robert Bornemann in 1977 “because my pastor told me to come to seminary,” recalled Miller, who had been engaged to serve as Director of Christian Education and Youth at St. James Lutheran Church in Coopersburg, PA. Her pastor was the Rev. Richard Wolf, an LTSP alumnus.

Beginning in her youth and over the 20 years following that course, she traced a rich variety of learning experiences mixed with a fascinating career in the fields of Christian Education and Youth, working at nearly every level of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the LCA’s successor denomination. She was part of Luther League and choir activities while growing up in Schuylkill County, grew in experience as a counselor at Ministerium, a Lutheran camp along the Delaware River in the Poconos, during her high school years. In addition to work at the congregational level, Ruth served the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA as its coordinator of Christian Education and Youth (1988-2005) while studying at seminary. She also served as an Educational Ministry executive for the Lutheran Church in America’s Division for Parish Services (DPS) prior to the 1988 merger to form the ELCA. During those DPS years, Miller recalled, she made lifelong friends from three national Lutheran jurisdictions who met frequently to plan resources and programs. The forming of those relationships has proved an unending blessing. But she singled out the seminary for special praise. “I am so thankful to LTSP for keeping me on all of those years to finish my degree while I was raising children, commuting, and working demanding jobs for the church.”

Miller recalled asking former dean James K. Echols, who had become president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, whether he felt she had set a longevity record as a student. He was revisiting the Philadelphia campus at the time as she approached commencement in 2008. He couldn’t answer her question but simply said, “I’m just sorry I can’t be here to see you graduate.”

Seminary memories are many. She remembered Prof. Bornemann fondly “in part because he was into archaeology, and I had wanted to become an archaeologist when I was a junior in high school.” Years later she enjoyed a second Bornemann course on “Arts, Music, and Architecture of the Church.” She said she still “has the book from that course, and I refer to it frequently.”

Another favorite memory was studying the Lutheran Confessions with Professor Helmut Lehmann. “Each week we had to prepare in depth for discussions on the Confessions,” Miller recalled, “and we had to prepare a paper as well. Then Professor [Timothy] Wengert came along and embellished so much all I had been learning.”

While working at the Division for Parish Services in Philadelphia, Miller switched study gears from being a daytime commuter from the Lehigh Valley to going to seminary after work as part of the Urban Theological Institute (UTI). “Being a commuter all those years was somewhat hard at times,” she recalled. Since her daytime work in Philadelphia placed her close to the seminary campus at the end of the day, UTI’s schedule designed to enroll working students was most appealing. “There were Lutherans studying as I was in UTI, but what I remember most was the joy of studying with people from different backgrounds and traditions. It was so amazing. We would ask each other, ‘What do you think about this or that.’ We learned from each other through wonderful discussions. It wasn’t simply the professor knows this and that is it. It really prepared me for my career and for my knowledge of the faith. I think I must have been involved with UTI almost since it began, and it is such a great program.”

Miller said that overall she received a lot of gifts from her seminary years, but especially is grateful from what she learned about the Bible and doctrine.

Small wonder she and husband Ken are strong donors to LTSP. “We give in response to what we have been given through this school,” she said during an interview at the Krauth Memorial Library. “We want to support a school that is training leaders for the church and has been doing a wonderful job of that for a very long time. We want it to continue.” She noted that one of the seminary’s new students this fall is from her home congregation. “He just lost his Dad and has two children. He needs financial assistance to study, and so we want to support the seminary that is encouraging him.

“Mostly I am glad the seminary decided to keep me around all those years,” Miller recalled with a smile. “That was really a grace-filled gift!”

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