Potomac The Rev. O. Thomas Miles remembers a gentle calling to the ministry. It wasn’t a bolt a lightning that got his attention, but rather a nurturing relationship with a religious leader he knew as a child.
“I had an excellent pastor of the church where I went,” said Miles, who turns 90 in January. “I guess he sort of inspired me in an indirect way. He never pushed me. I looked up to him. His own life and ministry led me to think that was what I wanted to do.”
Earlier this month, Potomac Presbyterian Church in Potomac, celebrated Miles’ 61 years in the ministry. Miles marked the occasion by giving a sermon titled, “Finding the Elusive Life.”
“I have come to understand that faith is the important thing, not in terms of belief, but in terms of one’s attitude toward life,” said Miles said later. “One lives by faith rather than by certainty or by knowledge.”
Miles reflected on his life in the ministry, which began after he received a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and doctorate from San Francisco Theological Seminary.
He vividly remembers one of his first challenging tasks as a young pastor, which came after a telephone call informed him that a member of his church — a new father — had been killed in a plane crash.
“I was asked to go and tell his young wife, who had a child she was still nursing, that her husband was dead,” said Miles, who has two adult daughters. “Those are the kinds of experiences from which you learn a lot. Everything in the theological seminary is hypothetical, but when you got out and meet people who have these kinds of traumas, you learn what it means to be a pastor and how to deal with people who are hurting.”
Miles also underscored his belief in religious modernization: “I am firmly convinced that any religious institution has got to become a part of the 21st century or those institutions are going to be left behind.”
Mary Margaret Smith, a long-time member of Potomac Presbyterian Church, says she and other parishioners appreciate Miles’ generous and wise counsel.
“I am firmly convinced that any religious institution has got to become a part of the 21st century or those institutions are going to be left behind.” — The Rev.O. Thomas Miles
“He has a modern and intelligent understanding [of] the Bible and faith and the difference between religion and faith,” she said. “Tom has given years of help to worship through his sermons.”
Potomac Presbyterian Church’s pastor, the Rev. Sean J. Miller, added, “Tom faithfully served Potomac Presbyterian Church as interim pastor and parish associate over nearly three decades. As we prepare to celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2013, the members and friends of Potomac Presbyterian Church give thanks for [Miles’] teaching, preaching and pastoral care.”
Miles is the author of a collection of essays on scripture, prayers and poems, called “To Live and Die by Faith in the 21st Century.” He has also written a book of prayers called “Dialogues with God” and a book of sermons called “Crisis at Creed.” In addition, he teaches adult religion classes occasionally at Potomac Presbyterian Church and writing courses at Montgomery College in the continuing education program.
“I continue to write and try to get things published which is difficult,” he said. “Right now, I am very much interested in writing short stories which I am hoping to get published.”