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New pastor at UCC able to move up without moving far

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GROTON — After an exhaustive search over several years, members of the Union Congregational Church finally found their new pastor — right in their own backyard.

“This church and I are a good match,” the Reverend Gail Miller said. “What this congregation was looking for and who I am right now is a good match and we’re all very happy about it.”

Miller was installed as the Union Congregational Church’s newest settled pastor on June 8, after she had already served the institution as an interim leader since 2006.

“We were a good fit, theologically,” Miller said. “I appreciate traditional worship that is easily accessible to folks who may not have been in a church their whole lives. I’m able to lead worship in a way that communicates to both those people who are regular churchgoers and those who might not be; something that I think is important because our church has ‘lifers’ and also a number of folks coming who are new to church. That’s an important balance to maintain in a church.”

Miller felt that her relative youth may have also been a factor in becoming the settled pastor.

“I’m young-ish, but having 15 years of experience makes for a really good combination,” Miller said. “I’m able to relate well to older folks and to young folks, too.”

A resident of Maynard, Miller is married with a 4-year-old daughter, a fact that has helped her better appreciate the makeup of her congregation.

“One of the things I love about this church is that it’s truly intergenerational,” said Miller. “It’s small enough that people can very easily get to know one another and the children can get to know people of all ages. We are a big enough community so that we can be active, with lots going on. It’s a good mix of being small enough for intimacy among members and big enough to make things happen.”

A native of Minnesota, Miller graduated from Luthor Theological Seminary in St. Paul in 1993 before becoming the associate minister for youth and families at the Acton Congregational Church. Remaining there for over 10 years, she then moved on to Wakefield, where she acted as an associate pastor.

In 2006, she took over as interim pastor at Groton’s Union Congregational Church after former pastor Vicki Hammell gave up the position in 2004.

“As pastor, I do think I play something of a role in the life of the town,” said Miller. “Certainly not in the way it used to be, historically, when the Congregational Church was at the center of town life. But as folks in church grow deeper in faith, they can’t help but become better citizens and that will happen in a variety of ways.”

Miller said she planned to continue to work ecumenically with the town’s other pastors to keep channels of communication and cooperation open.

“We’re doing it as our church always has,” explained Miller. “Right now, teenagers from Groton are going to Maine to do some mission work and for that, all of Groton’s churches, ours as well as the Lutheran and Catholic churches, are working together. The pastors in town all meet every month to keep in touch and to discuss community issues of mutual interest. For example, we all met with the town’s new police chief, Donald Palma, early on to establish a relationship with him. We’re working together to identify ways that the police can help us and how we can serve the department as needed.”

As for the future, Miller said she expected to meet it in partnership with her congregants.

“The church and I will develop plans together,” Miller said. “For myself, I just want to be a good pastor. To be faithful in my preaching an teaching and to encourage people in their Christian faith and to be good disciples of Christ. I want to develop ways that are encouraging and welcoming for anybody who comes to our church.”

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