Rev. Mark Miller takes his sword to new battle

June 4, 2013

By Joe Grove

Rev. Mark Miller, laughing at a comment from a guest in his office recently, is retiring from Mountain Creek Christian Fellowship after starting it 20 years ago. By Greg Farrar

Rev. Mark Miller, laughing at a comment from a guest in his office recently, is retiring from Mountain Creek Christian Fellowship after starting it 20 years ago. By Greg Farrar

The Rev. Mark Miller’s dress sword, once worn with his dress uniform when he was a young Marine officer and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, hangs on the wall behind his desk.

He traded it in for a different weapon: “For the word of God (Bible) is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” (NIV).

His old sword represents his “15 milliseconds of fame” as he was sitting in an officers’ club eating a hamburger, and the film crew for “The Great Santini” was panning the room.

With the new weapon, he started the Mountain Creek Christian Fellowship 20 years ago, a church that has been a ministry “to the more marginalized people, people on the fringes.” Miller is now leaving the ministry in the hands of his co-pastor, the Rev. Vanessa Chitwood, as he awaits orders from God for a new assignment.

Miller served 10 years with the U.S. Marine Corps and then went to work in the corporate world, mostly in technology areas. He came to the pastorate late in life as a result of a call from God.

“I never understood what a call was until I got one,” he said, adding that he came to understand his call as the result of a collection of incidents. “God brought it to a point in my life where it was do this or knowingly disobey.”

The Mountain Creek Christian Fellowship is unique in several ways, the most obvious being that it is not anchored to a building. It has a storefront office at 165 Front St. N. to house the staff and provide a place where street people can drop in on wet or cold days for a cup of coffee and respite from the weather.

Over the years, the church has conducted services in schools, other churches’ buildings and even motels. They currently meet for Sunday services at the Issaquah Senior Center.

“We committed early on that we would not do the whole building thing,” Miller said. “Our goal has been to dump as much money back into the community as possible and live on as little as we can, so we are targeting to give away over 50 percent that comes in and to live on less than half.

“We wanted to be Jesus to Issaquah. Our philosophy has been to do church in such a way that if we ever went away, the hardest unchurched person in town would be sorry to see us go,” he added. “Some have called us the church of last resort, as people are welcome to fit in here who might not have been able to fit in other places.

“Every church cannot do everything, and for whatever reason, we felt called to be more vagabond and less equipped in terms of facility, and to focus more on trying to help the folks on the margins.”

So, what brings Miller to a point of departure?

“One Sunday morning, I was at the altar before church, just getting my heart and head squared away before the service, and God just said, ‘You’re done,’” Miller said. “It was as close as I have had to an audible voice from God in my life.”

Miller said he does not have another assignment and is awaiting orders. He said as he looks back on the past 20 years, he can see his coming was a definite call from God.

“I cannot tell you what it has done for my marriage, for my family and for me as a person,” he said. “I am so grateful for this privilege I have had.”

He and his wife Bethlyn have four children. The youngest, Caroline, is the only one still at home and is a junior at Issaquah High School.

He said as he thinks back on the many highlights of his ministry here, the creation of Compassion House stands out. The Compassion House Ministry, which now involves efforts of several churches, has three low-income housing units to provide transition housing for women with multiple children who are fleeing abuse.

“Women with multiple kids have almost no options when it comes to housing,” Miller said.

The housing opportunity comes with structured programs to equip participants in domestic and other living skills.

Chitwood came to the church several years ago as an associate pastor and has since been made co-pastor. She said that with “God being her helper,” she is ready.

She, too, went into ordained Christian ministry late in life, after many years working as a nurse. She studied for ordination while mothering three children and taking care of domestic chores. Following ordination, she served as an associate pastor in Renton for eight years.

She said senior pastors are appointed by the Free Methodist conference, but staff pastors are on their own.

When she felt her time in Renton was up, she looked around the Puget Sound area for her next assignment, since her husband is employed by The Boeing Co. and they were not free to move.

She said she was attracted to Mountain Creek Christian Church because of its philosophy of ministry.

“When I sat down for 10 minutes with Mark, I knew this was where I needed to be,” she said. “It was the philosophy of ministry, not being encumbered with a building, and putting all of our resources back into the community and reaching this area for Christ.

“I am anxious to carry on what he has started.”

If you go

Farewell gathering for Mark Miller

-June 9

-Sunday service with Miller preaching at 10:30 a.m.

-Lunch served by the congregation at 12:30 p.m.

-Issaquah Senior Center

-75 N. E. Creek Way

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