LIHUE — Not many churches close a worship service with a boisterous version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” as nearly everyone waves white handkerchiefs, wears big smiles and looks ready to party.
But that is how Father Bill Miller wanted it when he presided over his final service before about 200 people at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on Sunday.
“I have been incredibly blessed and am so grateful,” he said.
It was a lively, spirited morning of sermon, song, prayer, baptisms and plenty of laughter, not to mention the hugs, handshakes, smiles and promises to keep in touch as a congregation turned out to wish their beloved pastor farewell. Miller, after nearly 10 years of leading the Lihue church, is headed to Covington, Louisiana, where he will guide Christ Church.
Miller, wearing numerous colorful lei around his neck, said he discovered much about Hawaiian history, culture, music and people in his time on Kauai, and it changed his life. He cited a more profound understanding of aloha, that he said “is so real when you experience it.”
“It’s been such a gift,” Miller said.
The outgoing, vibrant pastor was praised for his boundless energy and the manner in which he reached out to the community through faith, music, art and ohana. He invited all people to be part of the church. He preached that every person must be loved, respected and treated with dignity.
“Each of us has something no one else has — we are unique for all eternity,” he said.
Leland and Constance Cowan, frequent Kauai visitors from Salt Lake City, were celebrating their 59th anniversary and Miller called them to the front and prayed for them during the service.
Leland Cowan said Miller has many strengths as a pastor and will be missed.
“He just makes life much better here,” Cowan said.
Maureen Nuccio-Hiraga said Miller displayed in every sense the meaning of ohana.
“He’s so sincere and authentic,” she said, her service dog Sager at her side. “His faith is so admirable and inspiring.”
Beth Debrey, parish administrator, said Miller sees God in everything. She said his sermons, service and spirit helped the church grow and connect with the community.
“It’s really raised me spiritually,” she said.
A search to replace Miller is under way. The church expects to name an interim pastor soon, and have a new rector in place early next year.
In his farewell sermon, Miller paid tribute to Fred Rogers, showed off a fine singing voice, displayed a sense for comedy, and made clear that each person is loved by God just as they are.
“In the words of Mister Rogers, ‘It’s you, I like,’” he sang.
And it was from his mother that he learned, early on, to always give thanks to God. No matter the situation, whether it be young Billy Miller crashing on his bike or getting in trouble at school, his mom started each prayer with, “Let us thank God.”
He learned, too, that he mattered to God, just as all people matter to God, and are loved by Him.
“We don’t let other people define us. God has made each one of us. God knows us intimately and made each one of us unique,” Miller said. “We simply acknowledge and accept the unique and wonderful creation that we are in Christ.”
Miller is a man of many talents and passions. He is an avid traveler, loves dogs, is the author of the “The Beer Drinker’s Guide To God,” and “The Gospel According to Sam: Animal Stories for the Soul,” and is co-owner of Padre’s, a watering hole in Marfa, Texas.
While he will miss Kauai, he looks forward to his next journey. Life, he said, isn’t so much about endings as it is about new beginnings.
“You and I were wonderfully made in a wonderful world,” he said. “Thank God for that.”