On a trip that will take them from the Abita Brewery near New Orleans to Mount View Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas, Rev. Bill Miller and Nawiliwili Nelson are having one last “howlelujah.”
‘Wili,’ Miller’s 12-year-old terrier mix, is hoping to hit all his “barket” list items as his days on Earth are drawing to an end. Almost a year ago, the dog was diagnosed with cancer and has outlived his prognosis several times over.
“I remember the day he got sick,” Miller said. “I broke down and sobbed, because Wili and I have an unbelievable bond.”
As an Episcopal priest in Louisiana and author of two books, Miller said he hopes to spread the underlying message behind the trip.
“The purpose of this tour is to enjoy and appreciate the time we have together and help others ponder the gift of life, the gift of God, and the gift of dog – which I believe is God’s greatest gift.”
Despite the sadness of an impending goodbye, the Last Howlelujah Tour, as Miller calls it, is anything but cold or broken.
The tour will help raise funds and awareness for animal welfare organizations in the cities where the duo stops.
In Dallas, that’s Operation Kindness.
“Some of the churches and other locations have gone to extraordinary lengths for these events, with barbecue dinners, local beer tastings, and partnering with local animal welfare groups,” Miller said.
One of those churches was the Episcopal Church of the Ascension (ECA) in the Preston Hollow area.
The church’s Rev. Paul Klitzke served with Miller in different parishes while both men were living in Hawaii.
“I really enjoyed reading his book and his writing style,” Klitzke said.
“I’ve gotten to know him and know that he’s just a great storyteller.”
On July 6, Miller and Wili appeared at Klitzke’s church, where a barbecue dinner awaited them and their fans.
Miller spoke about storytelling, life with pets, and sharing the gospel through that lens.
“That’s part of our mission as a church,” Klitzke said. “I think people seek out ways that the gospel and the rest of Scripture and our history as Christians … ways people can connect to those stories in their own lives.”
Prior to their Dallas visits, Miller and Wili raised $1,510 for various animal advocacy groups.
“Wili loves all people and all critters, so this is a grand adventure and lots of fun for him,” Miller said. “He is getting toys, treats, attention, and barbecue along the way.
“I believe that every day is a gift, every breath is a gift. I am grateful for every day. I know he won’t be with me forever, so I want to make the most of our time and share his wonderful life-affirming and joyful spirit with as many people as we can.”
Miller has two other dogs. One is Sinbad, whom he rescued during Holy Week on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Sinbad was scheduled to be euthanized on Good Friday at a humane society.
“He was abused, so is very timid, but very sweet, kind and loving, and learning to trust more every day,” Miller said.
Then there’s his pit bull named Mahalia Jackson Queen Liliuokalani (Lili for short), who is the only girl in the Miller household.
“My parishioners support my dual vocation as parish priest and author,” he said.
“My ministry goes far beyond the walls of the church, and not only do they recognize that, they encourage and celebrate it. They know that what Wili and I are doing is really an extension of their ministry – sharing God (and dog) with the world.”
Miller’s books include The Gospel According to Sam: Animal Stories for the Soul, and The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving and Living.