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Samuel Robinson Award winner memorizes Westminster Shorter Catechism

Sections on prayer and glorifying God helped a PC(USA) college senior get through the COVID-19 summer

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian New Service

After memorizing the Shorter Westminster Catechism, Lydia Miller wrote an essay on racial reconciliation and how being welcomed and embraced by a community in Ghana, where she stayed for a week while studying abroad, deepened her understanding of what it means to glorify God. (Photo courtesy of Lydia Miller)

LOUISVILLE — In the summer of 2020, Lydia Miller was feeling somewhat lonely and isolated. Except for her college experience, for the first time she was living away from home — in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a print design intern at Our Daily Bread Ministries.

Away from her friends at Alma College and her home church, First Presbyterian in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where her father, the Rev. Andrew Miller, ministers, she felt disconnected.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends,” she said, “and I wasn’t going to church.”

Plus, she was trying to figure out how to get additional scholarship assistance for her senior year at Alma after missing the deadline for reapplying for the Presbyterian Scholarship for Undergraduates through Financial Aid for Service in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. During the timeframe to reapply, Miller was studying abroad through the Semester at Sea, where she visited 12 countries while sailing on the Indian Ocean.

Lydia Miller is pictured while studying abroad during her Semester at Sea. Miller spent time in 12 countries, including Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. (Photo by Kayln Thompson)

That’s when her mom, Martha Miller, manager of Ministry Education and Support in Ordered Ministry and Certification in the Office of the General Assembly, encouraged her to apply for the FAFS Samuel Robinson Award. To qualify for the award, PC(USA) members who are juniors or seniors at a PC(USA) college or university are asked to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism and write a 2,000-word essay on a related assigned topic.

Lydia Miller had to think about it for a while, because 12 pages with 107 questions and answers is a lot to memorize.  But then she realized that she could memorize it in sections.

So, she asked Alma College’s chaplain and director of spiritual life, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville, if he would listen to her recite each section over a six-week period during the summer while she was on her internship. Thinking it would be a nice way for him to revisit the systemic theology that imbues the Shorter Westminster Catechism, Pomerville readily agreed.

Alma College chaplain the Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville believes the Shorter Westminster Catechism is an important foundational document. He said memorizing it is a great way for students to learn how a confessional piece of Reformed history leads to practicing and understanding a Christian ethic for living. (Photo courtesy of Alma College)

“It’s a great foundational document that leads us to practice and understand a Christian ethic for living,” he said. “What an edifying way for Lydia to learn a confessional piece of our history.”

As Miller memorized a section of the catechism each week, she noticed how it was shaping her — and the people she was living with — during a time where she had felt increasingly disconnected because of the pandemic.

“The friends I was living with helped me with some of the memorization, which gave the feeling of going to church,” she said. “I began to feel more spiritually involved as I reflected on some of the main questions about prayer and how important it is to pray.”

That, along with the first question in the catechism about humanity’s purpose, which is to glorify and enjoy God forever, got Miller to thinking about her life, especially what she’d experienced when she studied abroad and what she was witnessing in the Black Lives Matter protests over racial injustice during the summer of 2020. She wrote about it in her essay, how she’d felt the most welcomed in the African countries of Ghana and Morocco.

“She took her cross-cultural experience and used it,” Pomerville said, “tying it together with her faith, the practice of religion and glorifying God.”

In the essay, Miller described how many children in the village of Sensase in Ghana, where Miller stayed, had never seen a white person before. And how when she visited the Presbyterian church of the family she stayed with, she felt God’s presence because they never pointed it out or judged her.

“They only embraced me,” she said. “A lot of credit for how I act and try to treat people is based on my experiences with the people in Ghana and Morocco — and the stories of how much their lives are impacted by their Christian religion.”

Miller ended her essay on racial reconciliation this way:

“Racial reconciliation is something that is important, especially in the lives of Christians. This will help us create a more liberating relationship with God, help us heal brokenness within ourselves and the world, and will help us by emulating the way God expects us to act towards others. The Westminster Shorter Catechism lets us know what the Christian life looks like, and from there relates to how important the call to racial reconciliation from the Confession of Belhar is. Hopefully others in the world will follow in the footsteps of Christians and begin to treat everyone with respect and equality.”

Samuel Robinson Award applicants must be current students at Presbyterian-related schools. The award is not restricted to use supporting education. Students participating in this program have used the award to raise funds for mission trips, pay off student loans, and cover moving expenses as they start a career or enter graduate school.

 Applications for scholarships and awards for church members attending an accredited college or university during the 2020-21 academic year will open in February. Click here to learn more.

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