First Posted: 5/5/2014
Pastor Dan Miller, the 2014 recipient of the Charles D. Lemmond Jr. Community Spirit Award, embodies the name of the honor he’s received. He said his goal as a pastor is to bring the spirit of God into the community.
The award, named after the former senator who passed away in 2012 to recognize a resident of the Back Mountain for his or her leadership and advancement of community spirit, was established by The Dallas Post in 2013. The first recipients were David and Judy Rimple, honored for their work with the Back Mountain Trail.
The Charles D. Lemmond Jr. Community Spirit Award honors those who endeavor to improve the lives of Back Mountain residents through oustanding community service, public service or philanthropy and embody Senator Lemond’s commitment to doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason.
The leader of Back Mountain Harvest Assembly in Trucksville got his start in pastoral work at a young age, leading youth ministries when he was 17 years old and living in Freeburg, Pa. Miller, now 54, said he was called by God at an even younger age to do what he does today.
“Around the age of 6 years old, I started having conversations with God,” said the Harveys Lake resident. “I was going to many different church services five times a week, and I heard a voice, and I knew it was God. He told me to watch that guy on the platform, because that was what I was going to do.”
Miller said his mother was a Lutheran and his father was a Methodist, but he was led to the Pentecostal tradition after his mother was invited to a service when he was 8 years old.
“My mother and father had started making religion a priority, and my mother was invited to an Assembly of Life church,” said Miller. “And she was hooked. It was something more relevant that she had been looking for. She said she never experienced anything like that.”
After serving as assistant pastor in several Pennsylvania churches, Miller and his family moved to the Back Mountain area in 1992, but not intentionally.
“It was almost an act of God that brought me to this area,” said Miller. “It’s a nice area, and a nice community, but we didn’t come for that.”
Miller came to Back Mountain Harvest Assembly at a time when membership was dwindling and the church was considering closing its doors.
“There were 15 people total in the church, and five of those people were the pastor, his wife and his three children,” said Miller. “They didn’t know how they were going to pay their bills.”
Miller said as a pastor he tries to ensure the church isn’t just a place to go and sit for an hour – he said he wants to “expand the kingdom of God,” which means providing services and programs for the community.
“One thing we did quickly when we came here was to increase the relevance of the church in the community,” said Miller. “We became involved, put things in the paper. I started coaching Little League and basketball. We wanted the church to add value to the community, and if it brought people to the church, that was great.”
After the first year, membership rose from 15 to 100 people. Now Miller said the church has a regular Sunday attendance of 600-plus people, though around 1,000 call Back Mountain Harvest Assembly their church.
“We looked outside the four walls,” said Miller. “And we’re not all about Back Mountain Harvest Assembly. We have helped at least seven other local churches – some that were in the same situation we were when I came here – and gave them resources, ministers and people to revitalize them. We’re all many expressions of God. We grow when they grow.”
Miller said that people sometimes think the church takes away from a community, but he said his goal is to bring God to wherever people are and to provide a service for the community.
Back Mountain Harvest Assembly offers 96 different ministries and has started programs like the Hope Center, which is a free medical clinic and provides legal advice for under and uninsured people in the area. The church also hosts its annual living nativity during Christmastime, an event that costs tens of thousands of dollars and is free to the public.
“We’re here to offer anyone anything they need, be it a cool glass of water or counseling or anything,” he said. “And we’re not asking for anything in return.”
Back Mountain Harvest Assembly is currently raising money for the construction of a new church building, a project Miller said is the first project in decades that is “just for the church.”
He said the $4 million new building will have a 1,000-seat sanctuary and three stories that will enable the church to bring in different speakers, host dinner theater shows and other events.
“We are wearing our building out,” he said of the church, which is almost 40 years old. “We’ve put on an addition and changed the inside. Because a church shouldn’t be a museum – it’s a hospital to help hurt and broken people.”
Miller said he was “humbled and appreciative” to receive the award honoring the late senator, but he also felt he was undeserving.
“There are so many great people here at the church, and throughout the area,” said Miller. “I’m a nobody who has a lot of somebodies around me to make me look good.”
Miller and his wife, Deborah, live in Harveys Lake and have three children: Rebecca, 33, of Shavertown; Luke, 30, of Pensacola, Fla.; and Elijah, 27, of Kingston. They also have two grandchildren.