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1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

New director of spirituality and religious life joins Transy staff

For the Rev. Emily Miller, a liberal arts grad who majored in philosophy and religion, community has been the foundation of her spiritual and professional life. Through community she’s learned the richness of diversity, the soundness of her faith, and how family is much more than people related by blood or law.

“I would say that my first memory of God showing up in my life was through the community at the church,” she recalls of the devoted, intergenerational congregation of Cooks Creek that always stood by her family. “That was a really strong pull for me growing up,” she says, “the connection to the community that surrounds you during happy and not so happy times.” 

Miller says she’s excited to provide that support to Transy’s community—to be there for individuals on their spiritual journeys, but also to offer opportunities for students and the institution to recognize and understand the beliefs of a diverse student body. Serving young people has been Miller’s calling since her senior year in college when she was invited to be part of campus ministry.

After earning a B.A. from Bridgewater College (Virginia), she volunteered as an ecumenical Young Adult Volunteer (what she describes as a sort of religious Peace Corps) in a Methodist church in Miami. She worked on projects with Disciples of Christ in Texas, in campus ministry at the University of Louisville, and earned a Master of Divinity from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, even serving as director of recruitment and admissions. Part of a clergy couple, she is married to a chaplain at Berea College. Together they have traveled and served in multiple ministries in the U.S. They also have a baby daughter.

Miller knows from her work and her personal journey how college opens young people to a new world of perspectives. It challenges them academically, socially and spiritually. “That’s the purpose,” she acknowledges. “It’s supposed to be critical. That’s why we’re here—to examine ourselves and belief systems and to ask questions.” College is often the first time students begin to consider their beliefs in the context of other values and traditions. Things that once seemed indisputable are no longer without question. They need guidance and a safe space to do this.

In her initial talks with Transy students and administrators, she has heard a unanimous desire for a place where students can go and talk—“when minds are blown”—she says with a smile that acknowledges her own experience. She’s gratified to offer the support they need.

The discoveries she made came after leaving her family farm in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She was introduced to ideas and theologies of other denominations and to the larger, more accepting world view of the national and international parts of her church. Conflicting attitudes needed to be reconciled. In doing so, her faith grew.

“It was the spiritual part of my life and my community that introduced me to God being bigger socially—societally—than I had really thought of. For me it comes down to being open and affirming. The community introduced me to God being bigger than a closed mind. That has been really exciting for me in my spiritual journey.”

Through that community she found her belonging. “In being introduced to the much wider idea of the Presbyterian church,” she notes, “I learned that I wasn’t alone. And that made me want to continue to be part of something. I learned that it was bigger than myself. That is really important for college students as well,” she adds.

Miller is drawn to the “relational aspect” of a liberal arts education, not just the broad intellectual and interdisciplinary experience, but the way in which people from such different backgrounds can come together to live and learn and support each other. She continues to refer back to the lessons learned from her girlhood congregation, which helped to raise her.

“There are people across theological and political lines,” she notes of the church where she also was ordained. “They have shown me what it’s like to disagree and stay together. It’s been a good model in my own life.”

Miller, who is now part of Transy’s student life team, is eager to build awareness for all of the religions represented on campus. And she wants all of campus to know that they are welcome to stop by and talk with her. “It’s important for folks to know that I’m here for faculty and staff too,” she notes.