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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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It's 'our degree'

Doctorate is a historic first

Gwen Miller defended her doctoral dissertation at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill., in early April. The ending of a lengthy educational journey should be applauded for anyone, particularly one who at one point during her studies held three jobs. But for Miller, an ELCA pastor serving Zion Lutheran Church in Chicago, the event comes with special status. And according to her, it comes with a special responsibility.

Miller is the first ordained African American woman in the ELCA to receive her doctorate.

“It wasn’t until I was walking through the doors to defend my dissertation that it occurred to me that this isn’t just my degree. This is our degree. There are black folks all over this Lutheran church who are so excited about this,” Miller said.

Her dissertation is “Experience, Narrative and Ritual in Black Women’s Writing: A Womanist Perspective in Pastoral Care.” It’s a lengthy title, but one that fits adequately both what Miller hopes to accomplish in her ministry and what called her to serve in the first place.


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