David E. Miller remembers his first time meeting the congregation at Woodburn Immanuel Lutheran Church was an ice cream social.

“The first thing I?did when I?walked through the door was shout, ‘Hey everybody!’ and they actually started applauding,” he recalled. “I think they were ready for someone to come in and shake up the cobwebs, to stir up the pot and say, ‘Church can be fun. Church can be exciting.’”by: LINDSAY KEEFER - Dave Miller started as pastor of Woodburn Immanuel Lutheran Church on Sept. 15.

Thus, the church welcomed Miller as its new pastor Sept. 15. Miller, 30, said he’d rather people look at his energy rather than his age.

“It doesn’t have to a be scary thing to have a 30-year-old tell a bunch of 90-year-olds what to do,” he said. “Ultimately, when I?preach, it’s 2,000 years old anyway. It’s older than anyone around.”

The 200-member congregation, with about 110 regular attendees, has a wide range of ages, and Miller said he’s felt welcomed not only by the church, but by the Woodburn community.

“In all traditions, the central constant is to love your neighbor,”?he said. “It’s just wonderful to connect in such a real way all the different dots that make Woodburn happen. It’s just one exit on the highway yet there’s so much here. I’ve been in bigger cities and yet here I’m finding the most joy, the most connection and a place where a community really can thrive.”

Miller grew up in Portland under the Lutheran faith, first considering the ministry as a career at the age of 13.

“My pastor put the bug in my ear and, at the time, I thought that would be easy because I’d only work one hour a week,” he said. “I spent the next 10 years unlearning that!”

After high school, Miller went to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., where he majored in religion.

“I’ve always wanted to know other religions’ beliefs,” he said. “I’ve learned that we’re not in competition, but we’re in cooperation with each other.”

He went to seminary to receive his Master of Divinity at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. That is where he met his wife, Natalie Di Lillo, a Catholic seminary student at the time. They married in August 2011.

“We’ve learned to celebrate both religions,” he said.

After seminary, Miller was sent to the Cincinnati, Ohio area, where he served as an associate pastor for three years. After that, he served as a full-time interim pastor for one year.

The situation is similar to what happened at Woodburn Immanuel Lutheran Church. When Rev. Scott Summers decided to move closer to his hometown in Washington, Rev. Jim Flachsbart filled in as interim pastor for 18 months.

“It’s usually a year to 18 months so the congregation can continue business as usual while working on finding a new permanent pastor,”?Miller explained.

While serving as an interim pastor himself, Miller was hoping to head back to his roots on the West Coast, so the timing to come to Woodburn worked out, he said.

“I was interviewed three times to make sure I was a good fit,” he said.

But the active Immanuel Lutheran community drew him in even before he was officially hired.

“They had this vision and a heart for this ministry,” he said. “I?got invested four months before I even started.”

One project that drew him to Woodburn was the church’s purchase of land near the highway that will house a park and a new church location.

“It’s about stewardship and building God’s community,” he said. “I think through this project we can find out what we can do for Woodburn.”

He is also excited about the many other groups formed at the church, whether it’s making lefse (Norwegian flatbread) or making quilts to send to missions.

“It’s an intimate group,”?he said. “The over-60 group is just as vibrant and passionate as the youth.”

Miller will be officially installed as pastor in a public ceremony Sunday at 2 p.m., conducted by Bishop David Brauer-Rieke of the Oregon Synod.

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