Mobilizing Moravians to Serve Throughout the World
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Miller S’85
“It is a privilege to support the Lighting the Way campaign and the particular initiatives it supports for the seminary. The campaign highlights the strong history of the commitment of the seminary to prepare individuals to serve in the church and in the world.”
With a lifetime of firsts and meaningful circumstances, Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Miller S’85 zigzagged from Pennsylvania to Vermont to Texas to Wisconsin, all the while guided by a desire to learn and lead. From her bucolic beginning in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she attended a Quaker school, to a cabin in rural Vermont hand-built by her family, Miller’s formative years molded many of her future decisions. “The influence of the Quakers had a profound impact on my theology and love for education,” remembers Miller.
When Miller was 10, her father accepted a position in Bethlehem as a professor and dean of the College of Education at Lehigh University. Her mother worked for Moravian Academy—the first of many Moravian influences in her life. After high school, she majored in history at Middlebury College in Vermont. In a full-circle moment, her undergraduate thesis examined religious education by Quakers and Moravians in England. Her thesis advisor, Dr. Roger H. “Rusty” Martin, would later become president of Moravian College and Theological Seminary (1986–1997).
Fast forward to South Texas, where Miller joined her college roommate, teaching at a Catholic elementary school in a low-income, Mexican-American community. She accepted a physical education position with the school and, while there, learned Spanish and worshipped with the families of the school at the Catholic church. She says that during this time, she was “humbled by the deep faithfulness and generosity of those who were poor in things and rich in spirit.”
“I was searching for my life’s path when I stumbled into the seminary. They took a chance on me, taught me, and entrusted me with opportunities along the way.”
She later brought her enriched faith and spirituality back to Bethlehem, joined the Central Moravian Church choir, enrolled full-time in the master of divinity program at Moravian Theological Seminary (MTS), and joined the Moravian Church. “I inquired about taking a course for personal enrichment and quickly became immersed in the culture of a theological seminary,” she says.
The First of Firsts
By 1985, after graduating from MTS, Miller moved to Lake Mills Moravian Church in Lake Mills, Wisconsin to accept the position of copastor—the first woman ever to do so at this location. After 20 years as pastor at Lake Mills, she was called to serve the Moravian Church Western District as director of congregational leadership.
During her service with the western district, Miller pursued her doctor of ministry degree in congregational leadership and development at Luther Seminary. In 2010, she was elected to serve as president of the Provincial Elders’ Conference of the Moravian Church Northern Province, the first woman to hold this position. She returned to Bethlehem, where she will continue to serve until her retirement this coming June.
“I stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way with wisdom, talent, and faith,” says Miller. “I also believe that, as a woman, I bring gifts to these roles—a spirit of curiosity, collaboration, humility, and yes, playfulness—that have shaped how I lead. Being the first woman to serve in various capacities in the wider church is important if my service can be a role model for girls and women who think, ‘I could do that.’”
Pay for Someone Else
Miller says she was incredibly blessed to graduate from college without any debt because her parents were able to save for her education. When she asked them if she could repay her tuition over time, her father told her to pay him back by paying for someone else to go to college.
Considering it both paying back and paying forward, Miller has served on the MTS Board of Trustees since 1986, served as its chair from 1997 to 2000 and again in 2021 (another first for a woman in that position), and supports the International Scholarship Fund, which she hopes will open doors to Moravians around the world.
“I stand on the shoulders of women who paved the way with wisdom, talent, and faith. I also believe that, as a woman, I bring gifts to these roles—a spirit of curiosity, collaboration, humility, and yes, playfulness—that have shaped how I lead.”
“Giving to the scholarship and annual funds is my way of paying my father back after all these years. It is also paying it forward to help make it possible for others to attend seminary and thus transform the world,” she adds. “We in the global north have a moral responsibility to help educate those in the global south who do not have the same access to education that I had.”
“I was searching for my life’s path when I stumbled into the seminary. They took a chance on me, taught me, and entrusted me with opportunities along the way,” Miller states. “The professors and the students with whom I shared that environment—both long ago as a student and today as a trustee—have been lifelong guides and friends on my journey.”