The natural progression of age, the cool tone of his gray hair is the measure of a life well-lived. Affectionately called “grandpa,” Chaplain Aldean “Al” Miles’ journey is profoundly poetic, best encapsulated by the words of a friend: “It is like you waited your whole life for this moment.” There is a great sense of familiarity and comfort that defines his presence in the world of others, made more meaningful by the plethora of life experiences that have molded him into the man he is today. There is something to be said about one’s capability to turn personal tragedy and triumph into golden wisdom. Throughout his life, he has exhibited an ability to master the art of just that. Fueled by the love and support of his wife Kathy, Chaplain Miles has been a trailblazer leaving stepping stones for younger generations who may empower themselves through the knowledge of his story. It is his legacy that shines brightest upon the celebration of his 70th birthday, one defined by compassion, selflessness, and the immeasurable power of human connection.

Perhaps the soundest piece of advice he was offered on his chaplaincy journey was given by Dr. John Vayhinger, a clinical psychologist and professor at The Anderson School of Theology located in Anderson, Indiana where Al attended seminary. During his last year there in the late 1970s, Miles took a month-long course entitled “Ministry to the Sick,” which the professor led. Describing the experience as an essential “homecoming,” it was during this time, while conducting his clinical work at a local hospital, that he would find a place of belonging and purpose. As an orderly charged with making beds, changing bedpans, and cleaning toilets, he describes this experience as humbling– the catalyst that would spark an interest in chaplaincy. Looking to Dr. Vayhinger for advice, his guidance would prove to be life-changing as he provided sound words of encouragement to Miles: “Chaplaincy will not make you a rich man, but you will be wealthy in so many other ways.”

The spiritual currency that describes his 35 years of professional ministry, 28 with PHM, would drive him to make a life-long commitment to God’s work. While in his mid-30s, Miles promised himself that he would “work until age 70, retire, then work until death.” This detail illustrates his pervasive and fiery spirit and determination to be of service and aid to others. However, as with all things, the unpredictable nature of life circumstances would prove threatening to this goal. At the age of 57, Miles was diagnosed with metastatic cancer, which would fundamentally intensify his already deeply-held love for chaplaincy. Reflecting on his journey, he explains, “patients and their loved ones have given me far more than I could ever offer them simply by telling me their stories . . . the reality of the wealth of being with people during whatever they are going through has always spoken to my heart.”

(Chaplain Miles joining the Pacific Health Ministry Family in 1993)

Chaplaincy is best understood as a heart language, an exchange of history and experience that requires a significant level of vulnerability and humility–the latter of which Miles emphasizes as an essential sense of understanding for younger generations. “I tell all young chaplains to remember the importance of this high-calling; this is not a job, it is a calling . . . the way the [patients] treat me is reflective of their experience, built on the foundation of trust, [and] I take that very seriously.” Miles notes that this was a reality with which he had to become comfortable in his early years. As he describes it, his journey in chaplaincy forced him to put his ego aside and prioritize the people in his life who needed him most.

It is evident in the endless stories that he shares and that those who know him so graciously offer up that Chaplain Miles has an uncanny ability to make people feel heard and seen, and important. It is during those moments when individuals are searching for hope, meaning and promise, times in which their faith may waver the most, that he is there to offer just that. Mirroring and consequently reflecting the patient’s bravery, strength, and vulnerability, he embodies perhaps our greatest strength as human beings–compassion. He constitutes his work as the utmost form of gratification, not one to bask in praise or seek validation. However, in the discussion of lasting legacy, it would be inappropriate not to discuss his accolades, including receiving from the Association of Professional Chaplains the Anton Boisen Professional Service Award in 2019, which is one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed upon a Chaplain.

(Chaplain Miles as he received the Anton Boisen Professional Service Award in 2019)

When asked about his most significant achievement in life, there is no hesitancy when he answers. With tears in his eyes, he recalls the moment he would meet his wife, Kathy. Instantly knowing that she was the woman he would marry, he remembers seeing her in a cafeteria, immediately smitten. It is appropriate to end the story with this anecdote for several reasons, mainly because his story begins and ends with Kathy. In how he tearfully recalls this moment, an undercurrent of emotion leads one to assume that the same passion, vitality, and restoration the calling brings to his life also defines the life and love he has built with her.

(Chaplain Miles pictures with his wife, Kathy, in 1993 and 2019)

So today, we say Happy 70th Birthday to this kind and loving Chaplain, husband and friend to all: Chaplain Aldean ‘Al’ Miles.