Monday, November 7, 2011

This Odd and Wondrous Calling – A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers is written by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver, two United Church of Christ ministers. In the preface they note that there are a plethora of books and resources on doing various aspects of books, but little to no writing about the various aspects of lives of ministers. This book is for persons trying to discern a call to ministry, laypersons who want an inside perspective, and seasoned ministers who need hope and a sense of renewed calling. These ministers tell tag-team vignettes about various aspects of their lives—their marriages, ordinations, first pastorates, family deaths, delivering sermons, nurturing budding ministers, hospital visitations, and practicing justice work in the community. These stories are delightfully insightful, while being funny, down-to-earth, and relational in tone.

I found myself nodding and laughing as Daniel talks about delivering sermons and then finding what the congregation heard is not what you thought you’d said. Several stories emphasize that while this can be either amusing or troubling, it can also be miraculous when the Holy Spirit works to give a comforting word to a congregant in a time of need. Daniel’s honest tone as she talks about the blessings and difficulties involved with two married, dedicated people following their callings is refreshing and encouraging to many younger ministers who can’t seem to find enough time in the day for their family. Her struggle to be recognized a minister in spite of her age or gender is also one to which many can relate.

Beyond relating, there are also great examples of how to do ministry. Daniel is involved with community organizing and confronts injustices in her neighborhood along with other ministers. Copenhaver talks about how he found hope when tasked with the difficult job of delivering a benediction at his father’s funeral. Daniel addresses positive and negative models for the working relationship between senior and associate pastors. Copenhaver discusses important lessons he learned while shaking hands after the sermon. These lessons can be remarkably helpful for practicing ministry.

What struck me throughout the book was the playful, yet deeply thoughtful tone. These are two ministers, who, despite facing difficult times in their ministry, have fallen deeply in love with their calling. Daniel and Copenhaver present a hopeful and encouraging view of the church and ministry, while being realistic about the challenges of congregational ministry. Copenhaver reflects thoughtfully on the idea that people find God in nature. He states, “Given the demands of being in community with people, this should not be surprising. It is telling that the settings that we tend to describe as “peaceful” are invariably places with few, if any, people.” He goes on to challenge this notion by saying that the

“wonder is that God can be found inside the church, among quirky, flawed, and broken people who may have little in common and yet are bound to one another…But the Christian God seems to like to surprise us by showing up in the most unpromising of places, like a man from Nazareth and in a motley gathering of people known as the church” (232).

This is a beautiful statement that underscores the necessity of the hard work of reconciliation amongst church members. Only in reconciling in God can we learn to reconcile with our fellow church members and members of the community. Church is where we can learn to love our neighbor, welcome the stranger, and learn to forgive. It is clear that these ministers can clearly see and foster the ongoing work of God at hand in their congregations and community, while also having learned to set boundaries to give them time for rest and reflection. In that balance, ministry can be a truly wondrous thing, where liminal time is loosed and one has the refreshed eyes to see the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in their church and community.

Check out the book on Amazon!

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