As clergy couples, we are often called upon to be with parishioners and their families when they face serious illness. Such situations are opportunities to be the face of Christ in some of the most difficult circumstances people encounter in their lives.  In this webinar, Dr. Tom Miller discusses: how we might approach these times with faith and confidence, managing the expectations of medical professionals and parishioners with sensitivity; and, how clergy and their wives can manage the stress of this ministry.

Dr. Tom Miller has been a family physician for 40 years, working in multiple settings, including overseas missions in Tanzania and Albania. In the last 15 years, he has worked exclusively in hospice and palliative medicine in Lancaster, PA. He and his wife, Jill (a registered nurse working with hospice patients) attend Annunciation Greek Orthodox in Lancaster, PA.

“Caring for the Dying: Listening to God”

Dr. Tom Miller

Key Points from the Clergy Couple Webinar

Below are some important takeaways from the live webinar hosted by the Center for Family Care, supported by Leadership 100, and presented by Dr. Tom Miller on May 17, 2018.

When ministering to the dying and his/her family members,


  • Drop your agenda at the door
  • Be open to God’s agenda
  • Listen!!  Be sure you talk less than 50% of the time
  • Ask open-ended questions to facilitate talk
  • Convey the notion that you have the time to talk:  make eye contact, sit at eye level (don’t stand), touch, listen
  • Allow the patient and family to unravel the illness story
  • Allow for a non-judgmental space
  • Ask: What is worrying you today? It can lead you to where they are suffering the most.
  • Ask or explore:  What constitutes suffering for you? Or, What is this like for you?
  • Help the dying parishioner and family members convey to one another “The Four Most Important Things”: 1) Please forgive me 2) I forgive you 3) Thank you 4) I love you.  And also: good-bye
  • Become fluent, and comfortable with, the language of dying.  See the resources below
  • Help your parish to become fluent in end-of-life matters through:  Sermons, retreats, seminars, discussions of advance directives and living wills
  • Find resources for bereavement services in your community: Hospice, chaplains at hospitals and emergency services.
  • Involve your parishioners who want to minister to families of the seriously ill in specific ways
  • Find your boundaries, making sure this trial is not about you.


  • Be rushed.
  • Read prayers and give communion, and feel you have done your job
  • Offer platitudes such as,
    • God will never give you more than you can bear
    • Think of others worse than you
    • Everything happens for a reason
    • I know how you feel
    • I understand what you are going through
    • Tell stories about yourself or other people
    • Try to fix it, with a certain prayer, icon, saint, Bible verse, encouraging a certain attitude. You are not the Fixer! 
    • Look to the sick or bereaved to comfort YOU.
    • Assume that there is a right and a wrong way to go through this trial.


  • Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, MD
  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi , MD
  • Four Things That Matter Most,  Ira Byock
  • Life’s Living Toward Dying, Vigen Guroian
  • What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party.

Kate Bowler, NYT Jan 26, 2018   Link below: