Minister comes home to lead church

Published 10:25 am Friday, September 18, 2009

CHESAPEAKE — It’s been a career that has spanned 40 years with each phrase giving Tom Miller a new and individual way to spread the word of God.

Now the minister who spent part of his formative years as a preacher’s kid in Proctorville is now the leader of the Greasy Ridge Church of Christ, on County 2 in Chesapeake.

Miller was a grade school student at Proctorville when his father, the late Hunter Miller, was the minister at the Rome Church of Christ.

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“I don’t remember much. It was pretty normal,” he said. “I was aware of the fact that my dad was a preacher and I had to go to church at lot.”

However, following in his father’s footsteps was not on Miller’s agenda when he went off to college at Ohio Valley College in Parkersburg, W.Va. He expected to come out of school a teacher.

“I thought I would like to teach speech and maybe communications on a high school or college level,” he said. “It was in my college years that I started preaching.”

Small churches around Parkersburg would need a supply minister for a Sunday and would call on the students at Ohio Valley to fill in.

“It kind of grew on me,” Miller said. “I started thinking this is what I want to do.”

After Ohio Valley, Miller studied at Davis and Elkins College, Southern Christian University and the Institute for Effective Church Leadership.

He has a bachelor’s in Bible and a master’s in church leadership, along with training in counseling.

Among his assignments was serving as prison chaplain for the Huttonsville Correction Center in West Virginia and the Stark County Jail in Ohio.

Seeing the effect drugs had on causing the incarceration of so many of the prisoners, he started going out to schools and churches with the inmates to talk about the dangers of drug use.

“We had people from all walks of life serving time for drug possession,” he recalled. “We’d say, ‘Hey guys, it is not worth it,’ We traveled all over the state of West Virginia. The inmates would travel with me. … I was with them every day. A lot of their stories were heart rending.”

Miller faced his own heartbreak when his wife of 22 years died the same year that he lost his mother.

“The two women who meant the most had died,” he said.

That led him to share what he had learned about dying and grief and now is a frequent speaker on the topic.

“People would say how do you handle this. People having problems would come and talk,” he said. “We need to understand grief. All people grieve, but grieve differently. Grief is both universal and individual.”

Now Miller is coming back to home turf as he works to expand the mission of the Greasy Ridge congregation that numbers 60.

“It faces what a lot of rural churches have faced — young people moving away for jobs,” Miller said. “My plan is to get everybody involved in the program of work. I believe strongly you don’t hire a minister to do all the work. People need to take a personal responsibility. I don’t aim for us to sit up here on the ridge and dry up. I want us to be a vibrant congregation, though very rural. But a vibrant congregation.”