Gas Station Manager Wants To Fill Up Church

April 04, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

As a minister starting a church this spring, Ken Miller feels a little uncomfortable selling cigarettes for a living.

But as manager of the Crofton Exxon station, he accepts the cigarettes as part of a weekday job.

Like St. Paul, a tentmaker, Miller has to earn a living before hecan preach the Gospel. For him, that means selling gasoline -- and cigarettes, popcorn, candy, gum, soda and all the other items carried by a service station mini-store.

So while he "hates to promote badhabits," the charismatic preacher knows he needs his secular job as a practical way to support his wife, Tony, and five children.

On abusy afternoon, Miller, a sandy-haired man in a white Exxon shirt with Manager in red on the pocket, greets his customers, punches the cash register, makes change.

"How are you?" he asks a customer in aneasy-going voice. "Just the soda?"

The 30-year-old gives directions to lost travelers. He hands over jumbo bags of popcorn. Always he smiles.

During a break, Miller talks about the church he's starting, a charismatic assembly that will emphasize faith healing and the miraculous.

"I don't propose to preach to every person who comes in, but when religion comes up, I let people know my views," Miller says. "I stress to the employees to be friendly to people. I'm never in a bad mood. I've had my share of problems, but I don't let them affect my attitude toward other people."

Indeed, Miller hopes his calm temperament will attract visitors to his new church, Living Faith Assembly. With two other couples, Miller plans to begin meeting May 5 inthe Holiday Inn on Route 198, just off the BWI Parkway.

The minister, who plays the guitar, will lead the music until somebody else comes along to do it, he says.

And he'll keep working at the gas station until the church gets large enough to support him as a full-timepastor.

The approach is typical of Miller's version of charismatic Christianity, which places great emphasis on having faith that things will work out.

He has lived his life believing that miracles can be a part of everyday life, Miller says. Twelve years ago, he got his first demonstration.

Ever since he was a child, he'd wanted to be a minister. The day before he was to leave home in Illinois for Bible college in Oklahoma, Miller realized he was $418 short of paying his bills.

He prayed. The next day, when he stopped by his workplace to pick up his final paycheck, his boss gave him a second one.

"It was within 50 cents of the amount I needed. They said it was sitting there for months, but I had picked up all my paychecks. But they insisted," Miller says. "So I left for school with the bills paid."

After two years at the Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, he became pastor of the Charismatic Christian Center in Clinton, Ill., and stayed for three years.

Miller, who believes in faith healing, says he personally watched a man's foreshortened leg grow by several inches.

"It lengthened in front of my eyes," he says. "I saw it move."

A year ago, Miller and his family moved to Maryland from northern Virginia.

" 'Bloom where you're planted' is my motto," he says.

After visiting churches in the Crofton area and finding none that suited him, Miller decided to fulfill a childhood dream and start hisown.

It doesn't bother Miller that he had only two years of theological training.

For one thing, he was ordained by an evangelisticorganization called Family of God Ministries in Illinois, and he's worked in every church he's attended, he says.

Also, he doesn't accept the notion of an established church organization keeping tabs on him.

"I think churches should be set up like churches in the New Testament," he says. "Independent, not controlled by any religious organization or denomination."

Unlike Judaism, the Roman Catholic church and the main-line Protestant denominations, completely independent churches -- including many charismatic groups -- place great value on running their own shows.

Most main-line groups require a stringent theological training, with four years of college and usually three to five years of post-graduate work in theological training.

In the Presbyterian church, for instance, a 500-year-old tradition places great emphasis on training.

Explains Dr. Herbert D. Valentine, executive presbyter of the Baltimore Presbytery, which includes Anne Arundel County, "We have standards. We need to be assured the person understands how the Bible works, and how to relate an ancient text to modern times.

"If you don't do that, you can be in danger of having flights of fantasy without accuracy. Without accuracy, as the saying goes, the devil himself can quote scripture for his argument."

For a charismatic such as Miller, however, the backing of a church organization isn't necessary to start a church that he describes as "Bible-based and family-oriented, where Jesus is truly Lord of all.

"We should be independent so we can have freedom to do what we thinkGod tells us," says Miller.

"Sure, there are occasional abuses. But that's true of every facet of life. I just see a void here, and I'd like to fill it somewhat."

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