Shivon Miller hands maracas to a man in a pew. A toddler walks the aisle with a tambourine. Soon, the sanctuary fills with music and applause as children scurry a lap around the congregation. It’s Sunday worship at Trinity Lutheran Church, and Miller is getting everyone involved.
The exercise illustrates intergenerational support. “Church has a unique opportunity to bring all the ages together,” she said.
If the Minister of Congregational life isn’t holding hands with children in a prayer circle, she’s speaking into a microphone about grief and scripture. She’s seated and facing the front, joining her church in song.
Miller’s family has been attending for generations. “Trinity is my home church. I was baptized there, and grew up there,” she said. And her role as a leader and a participant started early.
As a child, she helped staple notices to the bulletin board. In high school, she was asked to lead the children’s choir and start a part-time youth group.
“I was raised in a congregation that had the generations above me sharing their faith in very visible ways that encouraged me all the way through.
“I was believed in and empowered to share my faith. My hope for the kids is that they have that power,” she said.
She worked as an elementary education teacher before completing a master's degree at Luther Seminary. Her role as Minister of Congregational Life allows her to take her love of education, faith and community a step further.
As a teacher, you guide children for a school year. She now has the opportunity to support kids through all stages. “I get to be a part of people’s lives from before they’re born to after they die,” she said.
“God is always here. It's whether or not we notice.”
Miller’s children have also been raised with a faith model beyond herself because of the congregation — a fact that benefits all.
Every generation needs each other, sharing wisdom and seeing God at work in ways that may have been forgotten, she said.
“Everyone’s taken seriously as someone who can contribute. It’s that sense of ownership, that sense of participation and community-building — that’s something we do really well in this church,” said congregation member Heidi Johnson.
Of Miller, Johnson said their connection runs deep. They were pregnant at the same time, raised their kids and provided a lot of support for each other.
Johnson recalled seeing Miller during their first visit to Trinity 15 years ago: “I remember her being a bubble of energy and my dad saying ‘She’s a dynamo.’ … That’s really her. She’s an impactful, powerful, intentional person, and we were captivated by how the church was and what they were doing.”
“She’s very good at what she does,” Serena Miller, 15, said of her mother.
“Sometimes, you see how it all is set up, and it looks easy, but she does so much and cares so much for the church.”
“This is our second home,” said Brayden Miller, 12, recalling seeing people fill in for his mother during summer youth groups to being old enough to attend himself.
“Trying to live into Shivon’s image, she’s been such a good example,” said Per Johnson, 15. Before the main service, Johnson and Serena Miller led Sunday school for the youngest attendees. “We’ve gone from (being) the little people, and people teach us, to we teach the little preschool students.”
Preparing teens to teach Sunday school is part of Shivon Miller’s job, which, she says, shifts with the seasons. There’s also planning worship, programming and activities that allow the church to engage with its neighbors.
She recalled hanging outdoor blessing bags for kids at the start of the school year. They did the same for dog owners using treats made by a member of the congregation.
“Even if it never carries over to them becoming part of the church community, they see church as caring about the community,” she said.
People have had negative experiences with church, and that translates to negative feelings about spirituality and God. Creating opportunities for kindness and caring from the church is important, she said.
“God is always here. It’s whether or not we notice," she said, "so (it’s) helping people notice."
Sitting in a first-floor couch room at Trinity, Miller is animated and energetic. She talks with her hands, explodes with laughter and leans to one side of the armchair at times, pausing before articulating her thoughts.
They’re a mobile ministry. Before, you had to be at the church for connection, and now some of the best interactions happen when she runs into people at the store.
Miller is expanding her leadership role at Trinity, and she said she hopes that in the future, the church will continue to be open to what following God might look like.
She sees more challenges among congregants around with life pace and anxiety. In her role, she looks at how to support mental wellness and create an open space at church to talk about struggle — which can be a tricky topic for some.
You don’t have to have it all together all the time, she said; “We recognize God’s presence in our brokenness.”
Miller was born into her faith, but it became real for her when her father left the family.
The idea of a heavenly father who was present at all times was an important comfort, she said.
She has always had “a tangible sense of being held and loved by God,” but there have been times of confusion or doubt, which is often part of the spiritual experience. The minute we believe we know it all, we’re in trouble, she said.
“I don’t think you ever really arrive at having your faith all figured out. It’s this ongoing wrestling and learning, experiencing God every day. … I’m still discovering my faith, and I expect I always will be.”
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