Reflection of Pastor Peter Miller Through My Eyes

Headshot of Peter Miller, founder of Portsmouth Christian Academy (formerly Bethel Christian Academy), man with white hair and glasses is smiling. He is dressed formally in a dark suit, red vest, white shirt, and patterned tie. The background is a blue-gray gradient.
The Intersection of History and Personal Experience:A Chronicle of PCA’s Genesis and Reflection of Pastor Peter Miller Through My Eyes

By Daphne Corso, Former BCA Student and current PCA Lower School Assistant Principal

As many of you know, Pastor Peter Miller, husband of and cofounder with Bettie Miller of the future Portsmouth Christian Academy, died over spring break and is with our Lord. As I and so many others are grieving Pastor Miller’s passing, I want you to know more about this amazing man as we thank the Lord for how He used Pastor Miller’s life to impact me and thousands of others and continues to do so through his legacy.

The genesis of Portsmouth Christian Academy (PCA) is not ordinary, and Pastor Miller is squarely at its center, along with Mrs. Miller. As I reflect on the life of this joyful, humble, faithful, and dedicated leader, I’m also remembering Pastor Miller’s impact on me and on PCA. The intersection of our lives all those years ago is something only God could have orchestrated and is a testimony to Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and
not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The Lord planted the initial vision for PCA in Bettie’s heart nearly 50 years ago. She was already faithfully serving as a mother of three and the administrator of Bethel Assembly of God Church (today Connect Community) where Pastor Miller was leading.  I am so grateful to God for planting this seed and bringing the Millers into my life.

As a young girl, I attended church rather inconsistently. My parents divorced and neither was saved at the time. My mother would take me to church because she felt it was the right thing to do. Once I started at Bethel Christian Academy (BCA), I wanted to attend Bethel instead of my mother’s church. She obliged. My view of Pastor Miller was that of a joy-filled man with a great sense of humor. I desired to know and experience more of the joy he displayed. At that time, I had no idea how much more he would mean to me in the next 44 years I knew him.

Pastor Miller loved anything to do with the Kingdom, and he exuded joy around opportunities to share the gospel and to love God’s people. I became more interested in church and in God, and asked my mom if I could attend the weekly youth group, the Wednesday night and Sunday night services in addition to Sunday morning worship. As a result, I was able to experience first-hand, Pastor Miller’s godly influence multiple times a week.

In the 1970s, Bettie was unsettled with the situation in the public schools and the environment in which her three daughters would be taught. She also became concerned about what they would be taught. Bettie longed for her oldest daughter, then of school-age, to experience an education centered on Christ. She took her request to the Lord and began to pray that someone would open a Christian school in the Portsmouth area. She had no idea that she would ultimately be the one to whom God was calling.

In 1977, an obscure notice in the Portsmouth Herald newspaper caught Bettie’s eye. It was an announcement that the city school department would be closing the neighborhood elementary school near the church in the Atlantic Heights community. Bettie later said that her spirit literally leapt within her when she read that notice. 

A framed portrait photo of an older couple, both smiling, with a blue background. The man wears a suit and tie, and the woman wears a white dress with a pearl necklace.

That evening when Pastor Miller returned home from work Bettie told him, “By the way, Atlantic Heights School is being closed and we need to buy the building.”

After picking himself up off the floor, Pastor Miller, with the support of the church, committed to the idea and, with the Lord at the helm, raised the $20,000 needed…in just one Sunday morning…at a time when New England was building its reputation as the most-unchurched people region of the United States. Bettie and Pastor Miller’s immediate, faithful, and joyful obedience demonstrates a couple committed to the Lord and to Pastor Miller’s leadership of God’s people toward a vision.

Pastor and Mrs. Miller were clearly following the direction from the Lord to “Seek the welfare of the city in which you live” (from Jeremiah 29:7) and serve.

Acquiring the property was a big step, but organizing, hiring, and deploying the community to open the doors to the school was still another. No surprise: Peter and Bettie were front and center in this effort. As a result, BCA—now PCA—opened its doors for the first time in September 1979 to 95 students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 8.

A black-and-white photo shows a single-story brick building with large windows and a sign reading "Central Christian Academy." Vegetation is visible in the foreground.
A red brick, three-story building with numerous windows, a green entrance door, small banners near top windows, and an external fire escape ladder on the right side, surrounded by bare trees.

And this is another intersection of Pastor Miller’s legacy, PCA’s history, and my life. You see, the first year that BCA opened, the students of BCA put on a Christmas production at our church. My mom was inspired and turned to my sister and I and asked, “Do you want to go to BCA?”

So, in 1980, at the age of 11, my mom enrolled me at BCA as a 6th grader. I remember Pastor Miller’s contagious joy, his sense of humor, and how much he enjoyed life.

I got to know the Miller’s youngest daughter and would join them at their home for meals and time together. I loved spending time with their family. There was joy and structure and love at the Miller’s home. They served as the family role model that I didn’t have in my own home. I got to see what it meant for a father to lead and love his family and what it meant for a mother to exert her influence in a gracious and loving manner. I was inspired.

In fact, in 8th grade, we were assigned a project to draw a picture of where we saw ourselves in 10 years. I drew a picture of a dad and a mom and two kids around a table as a whole family engaged in devotions together. This was my picture of “family,” and it was borne out of what I saw in Pastor Miller and the Miller family. They started a legacy that helped shape and inform my own family.

The early years of BCA were rough, but Pastor Miller was ever-present and filled many roles. He was “head of maintenance,” going in early every morning to “lay hands” on the old furnace and pray for it to work one more day. (If that didn’t work, he kicked it.) He was “head of security” when there was vandalism against BCA and two instances of arson; Pastor Miller coordinated men from the community to take turns guarding the building overnight. These visible examples of a servant heart had a profound impact on forming the ideals of who I wanted to be as an adult.

The teachers of BCA got paid if the families paid their tuition, and sometimes they didn’t. Pastor Miller used to say: “If the parents don’t pay, the teachers can’t stay.” More than once, Pastor Miller went without a salary so that the teachers would get paychecks.

As PCA’s Upper School Dean of Men and English teacher Stephen Foley shared in his History of PCA, “The real history of PCA is less about locations and numbers and more about people.” To paraphrase Mr. Foley, PCA’s history is really about God’s calling of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to serve or enroll at PCA, which He continues to do to this very day. It’s about people walking in obedience to His calling, even as things are hard. It’s about people committed to the prayer, hard work, and stamina required to serve in God’s kingdom. It’s also about people whose lives were immediately impacted or forever changed because of His power at work in the hearts and minds of those who’ve been a part of PCA.

I am one of those people. I would not be who I am today if not for Pastor Miller and his family. Because of them, I came to faith and my life was forever changed.

I am one of those people. I would not be who I am today if not for Pastor Miller and his family. Because of them, I came to faith and my life was forever changed.

I grew close to the Millers over the years, so much so that I wanted Pastor Miller to be a part of my wedding to my husband, Scott, 31 years ago. This godly man is forever linked to one of the happiest days of my life.

When I graduated from college, I took a teaching job in a 2-room schoolhouse in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. As I prepared to marry Scott and move to Rye, a stranger introduced himself to me at church. That man was Dennis Runey.

Mr. Runey heard that I went to BCA as a child and was now a teacher in Wolfeboro. As the new principal of the now-named PCA, Mr. Runey asked if I’d like a tour of my alma mater. At the end of the tour, he offered me a teaching position (Yes, that was my interview!). Becoming a part of PCA is yet another overlap of my life and Pastor Miller’s legacy. (Interestingly, this is also the same year that Dr. Connie Lawrence and Ruth Brown started at PCA. What an honor to have begun at PCA in the same cohort as these two amazing women!)

A group of 31 people stand outdoors in front of autumn trees, posing for a group photo; most are women, and they are dressed in various outfits suitable for cooler weather.
Daphne Corso, 1st Row Second From the Left, Dr. Connie Lawrence, 1st Row Last On the Right.

What I witnessed in Pastor Miller are traits that I carried into my own life. These are also some of the traits of PCA. He was an obedient servant of the Lord, acting as the hands and feet for the vision that God gave Bettie. He went out of his way to show Christ’s love to everyone through his words and his actions. He served any chance he had and would give you the shirt off his back. He helped support the start of what is now Operation Blessing to clothe and feed the homeless. Pastor Miller was a pastor and leader, who loved God, loved people, and loved the city of Portsmouth. He led thousands to Christ. He served as Chaplain to the fire and police of the city. He worked with the courts to support disadvantaged youth. He reached out to communities in ways few did. His hands-on approach to ministry and always relying on the Lord’s strength are models to emulate. He worked hard and put his best into everything he put his hand to, as if working for the Lord. He loved his wife and his children well. He lived a humble life of integrity.

The family that Scott and I started and nurtured was shaped and informed by Pastor Miller’s influence, love, and model. And that influence extended beyond my immediate family, as I saw others’ lives changed over the years, including my mom’s when she later gave her life to Christ. All because of the seeds planted by Pastor Miller. My desire is to be able to share the same joy with our present and future PCA students that Pastor Miller shared with all the BCA students.

As I reflect on Pastor Miller’s impact and on PCA’s history, PCA has survived—and even thrived—throughout its history when it probably shouldn’t have from a business standpoint. Today, PCA declares seven miracles God has done to establish and sustain our school. It’s about people—like Pastor and Mrs. Miller and many others—who know God is faithful because they’ve seen it time and time again.

If I could tell Pastor Miller one thing, I would say, “Thank you for being the spiritual role model that guided my path from childhood to adulthood and helped influence my desire to impart God’s love and guidance into others’ lives as you did for me.”

If I could tell Pastor Miller one thing, I would say, “Thank you for being the spiritual role model that guided my path from childhood to adulthood and helped influence my desire to impart God’s love and guidance into others’ lives as you did for me.”
Although Pastor Miller’s direct ministry in Portsmouth concluded years ago when he retired to Pennsylvania, his impact is felt today. His favorite saying was, “To God be the Glory!” He meant it with every fiber of his being, and he said it in a voice that invited others into that joy.

May the hope we have in Christ through Pastor Miller’s many ministries—including in my personal life and our school–continue to echo with Pastor Miller’s call, joy, and commitment. And may his labor at our school for over 15 years, from its founding until its transition to PCA, continue to bless our students and families today and for generations to come.

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If you would like to attend, a memorial service for Pastor Peter Miller will be held on May 19th at 4 PM at the Connect Community Church in Portsmouth, NH. Everyone is welcome. Join us as we honor the man who founded this incredible school.