Rev. Steve Miller, First Church in Jaffrey’s new settled pastor, will give his first sermon Sunday Jan. 23 at the red brick church next to the 1775 Meetinghouse in Jaffrey Center, NH.
Preludes by Music Minister Gene Faxon start at 10:25 and the service begins at 10:30 at the Congregational/United Church of Christ at 14 Laban Ainsworth Way off NH Rte. 124. To protect against COVID, you must be fully vaccinated, wear a mask and adhere to socially distant seating.
Miller commented, “I am very excited about getting to know all the people in Jaffrey, the church and the wider Jaffrey community. I’ve met neighbors walking my dog – I’m a bit of a schmoozer – and I was playing in the snow and making a snowman with my two grandsons, who are ages 2-1/2 and nine months.”
His wife, Dr. Jill Tyler, will join him at the First Church Parsonage after she retires in May as professor and chair of the University of South Dakota (USD) Communications Department. He comes to Jaffrey from the university city of Vermillion, SD, population 11,700, which is atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River close to the borders of Nebraska and Iowa.
Leah and Luke Summit, his daughter and her husband, and their two boys are staying with Miller while they look for a house in the greater Boston area.
He was the pastor for 26 years in Vermillion at the United Church of Christ-Congregational, which grew during his time to be a 600-member church.
Miller grew up in the city of Worcester, MA and in what is now the United Congregational Church, Worcester. He graduated from Springfield College in 1981. He began studying at Yale Divinity School and transferred to the Pacific School of Religion, where he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1987. He served churches in Bethlehem, CT and Gilman, IA before going to Vermillion in 1995.
After 26 years, he was looking last year for a post in New England to be closer to his mother, who was in Worcester and in ill health. Rev. Gordon Rankin, the UCC Conference minister in NH, and the Interim Minister at First Church in Jaffrey, Rev. David Felton, who had both served as UCC Conference ministers in South Dakota, knew of Miller’s work and recommended the Jaffrey church.
Miller said, “I used to come up here to climb Monadnock as a kid. It’s like returning home. I love the mountains, the trees, the ponds and rivers – it’s beautiful here.”
The Vermillion church gave Miller a farewell ceremony on December 19th and the tributes to him were glowing. David Lias, editor of plaintalk.net in Vermillion, wrote an 8-page article about Rev. Miller’s work in the church, the community and the university.
Nate Welch, the emcee for the event, said he met Steve about 20 years ago at a youth retreat in Iowa. He and his friends had planned to sneak out at night and instead found themselves staying up most of the night with Steve. “He helped us to be able to understand how you can grow closer to Christ in each and everything you do,” Welch said.
Miller spent five years at the university studying Lakota spirit, language and music. He invited the Lakota community to hold sacred ceremonies at the UCC church. Rich Boyd, speaking for the Lakota Indian community, said he and Steve have been friends for years and call each other Kola, the Lakota term for brother.
Miller was honored by the Vermillion Community Theatre with a poster of six photos of him in community theater productions that was headlined “Actor, Playwright, Songwriter, Musician, Director of Spirit” in appreciation of his and the church’s support in helping the theater build a center for performing arts at the Vermillion high school.
Sandy Dickenson, a VCT board member, said, “Steve is amazing and those of us at VCT
see a broad range of his talents.” She said he can act, sing, dance, play the violin and turn cartwheels.
“He writes scripts and music, but his greatest asset is resolving any conflict for the company. He can spot problems before they become issues and carefully redirect actors young and old. He also sees great value in building community through theatre.”
Miller was a leader of the Vermillion Youth Baseball Association for players 5 to 12 for many years, Steve Ward said. “Baseball is a constant metaphor for Steve for how we live and how we should live with each other. Individual achievement is built on team cohesion.” Joe Miller, one of four sons, said, “My dad was intent on ensuring that every kid, willing or not, was an equal participant, requiring every kid to pitch and every kid to play each position.”
The provost at USD, Kurt Hackemer, said Miller’s “World Religions” course became classes that students really wanted to attend. The provost read the student evaluations of him. One of the “most important” was a Miller course, “The Pipe and the Cross”, about the intersection of Christianity and Native spirituality. “So many students got what they considered THE great class, the best class that they ever had at USD,” the provost said.