Newspaper Release March 2013





Rev. Karen Hilfman Millson Completes Ministry at St. Paul’s United Church


Reverend Karen Hilfman Millson will be completing her ministry at St. Paul’s United Church on April 7th after serving for more than 17 years as a full-time minister at Orillia’s historical downtown United Church congregation….


Karen Hilfman Millson was called by the St. Paul’s congregation to be a “team minister” with Rev. Paul Browning beginning in January of 1996. Two full-time ordained ministers working in an equal partnership was a relatively new concept for a Christian church of any denomination at that time. This new team model of ministry enhanced St. Paul’s reputation throughout Orillia and the United Church’s

Toronto Conference as being a progressive and innovative congregation.


Focusing on an emerging paradigm of church congregations nurturing small groups that would appeal to like- minded people interested in a particular style or method of worship or spiritual practice, Revs. Hilfman Millson and Browning created a very diverse worship community at St. Paul’s. They established the “3:30 Live” alternative worship service on Sunday afternoons. An informal, coffee-house gathering in the large banquet hall of the church, “3:30 Live” gave people from all walks of life an opportunity to explore meaningful and relevant life issues. A  variety of guests from our local community were interviewed by the co-ordinators and there was always a Q & A opportunity as well. The relaxed, contemporary atmosphere was enhanced by live music performed by community pop, rock and jazz musicians.


While Browning continued to provide leadership for “3:30 Live”, Hilfman Millson introduced a completely different worship option to St. Paul’s, a mid-week evening meditation service called Circle of Light.  Many in the congregation and the community at large found this weekly Wednesday evening service provided a safe place where a guided meditation invited participants to listen deeply at a “heart to heart” level to an inner wisdom including the guidance of a greater Spirit. Embraced by the warmth of candle-light and reflective, soothing music, participants were invited to connect with their “authentic self”. Delving more deeply into aspects of life’s deeper meaning on a spiritual plane and then verbally sharing insights that were made manifest through the guided meditation made Circle of Light a transformative experience for many. Hilfman Millson also began an annual springtime ‘Week of Guided Prayer’ which allowed those attending to have a daily extended time of gathering in community for in depth meditation and prayer.


Hilfman Millson has always had a strong interest in empowering the innate potential and gifts in others. She has encouraged and guided many lay people to become leaders of small groups for which they have a particular  interest and aptitude under the umbrella of the St. Paul’s worship community. She recruited many St. Paul’s congregants to train as a Stephen Minister, a one-to-one lay ministry caring initiative with the goal of providing confidential and gentle support for people struggling with bereavement or other psychological concerns. After Browning moved from Orillia in 2005, lay people made the continuation of “3:30 Live” possible, giving leadership by taking on the responsibility role of being facilitators or by volunteering on the steering committee. In some cases, lay people created and provided leadership for other small groups focusing on alternative worship methods and some have been motivated to take more extensive lay ministry theological training.


Hilfman Millson is a committed life-long learner, seeking spiritual wisdom, contemporary and relevant theological perspectives, and innovative ideas on how we can create a better world for all of its inhabitants.    Many of North America’s most highly respected and wide-read theological writers and progressive ideologues have accepted her invitation to provide lecture series at St. Paul’s including Dr. John Spong, an Episcopalian bishop and definitive voice for progressive Christianity; biblical historian Dr. John Dominic Crossan; Matthew Fox who is renowned for his writings on creation spirituality and Dr. A.J. Levine, a Jewish feminist professor and New Testament scholar.   Other speakers outside of the Christian theological milieu have included children & youth activist Barbara Coloroso, and Orillia’s own Gordon Lightfoot who has returned to his hometown church on three different occasions in recent years, sharing reflections in an interview format with Hilfman Millson on the impact his strong connection with St. Paul’s in his formative years has had on his song-writing career.


Before entering Emmanuel College theological school at University of Toronto, Hilfman Millson had completed a Bachelor of Arts from University of Guelph majoring in dramatic arts where she discovered a strong talent for theatrical directing. She has drawn on this background to act as director for many of St. Paul’s more recent musical theatre presentations including Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and, most notably, a remarkably innovative production of Jesus Christ, Superstar in the spring of 2011.   This past December Hilfman Millson collaborated with St. Paul’s music director Blair Bailey to create an original script for the Christmas musical presentation The Living Christmas Gift based on the angels’ song of peace on earth.


In more recent years Hilfman Millson has been more and more involved with ecological concerns and initiatives. With colleagues Fred Joblin, Rachael Howes and Blair Bailey, a city wide Summer Day Camp was offered called “Creating A World of Peace” during which the peace pole at the side of St Paul’s was planted. It is one of over 200,000 peace poles around the world with the phrase “May peace prevail on earth” in four languages. Hilfman Millson has also served as facilitator for the Awakening the Dreamer Changing the Dream global movement, whose goal is “To bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on this planet.”  In the past two years, Hilfman Millson has been actively involved in the formation of the ‘Transition Town Orillia’ initiative which links in to the Transition Town network which began in Britain in 2006. The main aim of the Transition Network initiative generally, and echoed by the towns locally, is to “raise awareness of sustainable living and build local ecological resilience in the near future.”….