Karen Miller Memorial   

Karen Miller, beloved wife, mom, ACPE Certified Educator, Director of CPE, Training, and Counseling Center at St. Luke’s Episcopal, Atlanta, GA, and mentor to the hearts of many, passed away on December 9, 2022, from cancer. 

Born Karen Sue Smathers in 1952 in Knoxville, TN, Karen sought spiritual solace in the woods and meadows from an early age, including hikes with her dad in the Smoky Mountains.

After graduating as a registered nurse from the University of Tennessee, Karen packed her bicycle at age 21 onto a Hawaii-bound plane to begin her life of self-discovery – first serving in a Honolulu hospital.

After a year in Hawaii, Karen returned to the mainland living successively in New York City, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz, CA, where she specialized as a labor and delivery nurse.

In Santa Cruz, her lifelong multi-faith inquiry took root as she discovered Sufism from the works of the mystical poet Rumi which she studied with English author/healer Reshad Feild. At this time, she met her husband, Bruce Miller, a writer/media creator living in Los Angeles. Together, they returned to Los Angeles to start a family with the birth of a son, Nathaniel, in 1985.

Seeking a more family-friendly environment to raise a family, Karen and Bruce moved to a 120-year-old home in Decatur, GA. This stately-columned home became a hub of community as Karen and Bruce staged workshops, seminars, dinner parties, and events from their shared desire to nurture heartfelt connections among a diverse network of friends and seekers.

Eleven years after the birth of their first son, Jacob came into the world in 1996 as an unexpected blessing. When Jacob came of school age, Karen followed her intuition to reinvent herself – from a nurse to a chaplain. She entered Columbia Theological Seminary, where she earned a late-in-life Master of Divinity degree and became a Presbyterian minister. While studying Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), Karen felt an affinity to use her burgeoning pastoral skills to serve the homeless population. She took additional CPE residencies, including at Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare, where she was invited into the rigorous process of becoming a CPE educator.

In December 2013, Karen received her CPE Educator Certification from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. At the end of that month, she was stricken with a brain tumor that required aggressive treatment and surgery. This setback did not deter Karen from starting her dream career as the Director of CPE at the Training and Counseling Center at St. Luke’s two weeks after brain surgery and while undergoing treatment. Karen was given a seven-month prognosis but lived a vital life for the next nine years.

Karen approached the CPE process with the intention to honor her students’ latent gifts.   She saw and experienced her students as being hidden treasures.  Karen embraced an I-Thou theory that she borrowed from Buber and she truly lived it out in her relationships.  Karen loved CPE and often offered her leadership to the wider Atlanta CPE community.   An example of this was when she gave significant leadership to creating and facilitating an Atlanta CPE day experience at the Atlanta Foodbank.  Karen was also passionate about promoting and engaging in Inter-Religious communities.  She empowered Spiritual Health care providers in many settings.    Karen was a woman of deep integrity, intelligence and ethics who approached her vocation through the lens of a life-long learner.  She embodied delight and a spirit of wonder and play.  Amid her sense of living in the wondrous Mystery, she had a warrior spirit, determined and courageous with a deeply generous spirit.  Karen deeply cared about humanity and connected with others through vulnerability and strength.   Karen knew how to love well and led with compassion as she leaned into the unknown repeatedly throughout her life.   She was beloved by many.  

Karen’s presence as an educator, colleague, and friend created the space for transformation and compassion.   She was a gifted CPE Educator who was devoted to creating spaces of hospitality and exploration for her learners.   For those of us who had the privilege of reading the CPE evaluations she wrote for her learners as they applied to our Centers, we could see the deep commitment she had to bless the internal resources of her learners and to help them see that they belonged.     Karen modeled excellence in Spiritual Care and Education.   She utilized her challenges as a way to find new pathways to express love and compassion.  

Karen never stopped in her creative quest to find new ways to help students use their clinical encounters with homelessness to explore the deeper regions of self. She used cultural collages, genograms, retreats, improv theater, and group processes to catalyze reflective work and personal change.

Karen also drew from her multi-faith interest to recruit students beyond the confines of Christianity, including Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims who took her CPE course.

Karen’s multi-faith interest was born from her deep self-inquiry. Throughout her life, Karen drew from Sufi practices, her Christian faith, Qigong, yoga, Advaita meditation, the Ridhwan School, and her husband’s Judaism. Karen and Bruce’s evocative Passover seders became the stuff of legend.

While Karen’s resume is rich, she is remembered for her palpable kindness and embracing love. Even while she was suffering, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues received a deep tenderness to their needs and a liberating permission to be themselves.

Karen is survived by her husband Bruce, sons Nathaniel and Jacob, and daughter-in-law Hillary and her beloved dog Miko. Siblings include Deborah Doss and Tom Smathers in Tennessee and Emily Hendrickson in North Carolina.

Karen asked for her remains to return to the earth in a sustainable manner. She will be given a green burial at the Honey Creek Woodlands natural burial site in Conyers, GA, on December 16, 2022. Karen’s beloved husband Bruce and her CPE community contributed to the preparation of this remembrance of our beloved Karen.  We aspire to carry forward her multi-faceted legacy.  May we continually be reminded to discover our hidden treasure, our gifts, and to offer them to the world.  Please continue to check in with the ACPE site for information about ways to honor Karen and her legacy.