Welcome to the first of our monthly book discussions! In the sidebar you will see the books for the next two months identified, along with a link to our Amazon Store, where you can purchase the books and make a small donation to RevGalBlogPals, Inc. at the same time!
Our book for March is Leaving Church, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, Harper San Francisco 2006.
I imagine that many of you seminarian and clergy types are long familiar with this and other of Barbara Brown Taylor's (BBT's) work. She is a priest in the Episcopal Church, the author of eleven books, many articles and recorded sermons and talks, and holds eight honorary doctoral degrees. She is, basically, a giant in the world of preaching. You may read more about her education, work, and upcoming speaking engagements on her website, www.BarbaraBrownTaylor.com
However, as a layperson who likes to hang out (virtually and In Real Life) with clergy and seminary types, this was my first exposure to BBT's work.
In a word, I found it explosive. It covers major questions about who we are to be as priests, pastors, and laity in today's church, and explores why, in many cases, the paths we are following are not leading where we want or expect them to go.
I am a dedicated and fairly picky reader. I read very fast and sometimes miss things; therefore I often read a book multiple times over months or years. However, as I read the last words of this book, I instantly, without putting the book down, turned back to the front and began again. I realized that I would need a pencil to mark things, so I stumbled through the house, still reading, until I had one; and I didn't stop reading until I'd finished the second time.
BBT begins by telling the story of her work on staff in a large suburban Atlanta parish. She was finding herself exhausted and used up, cut off from the nature which (as we see later) is and always has been so critical to her spirituality. "Why did I seal myself off from all this freshness? On what grounds did I fast from the daily bread of birdsong and starlight? (5)"
She and her husband begin driving out of the city to "see if we could imagine living anywhere else (6)" and found themselves drawn to the mountains of North Georgia.
The tiny church with which she falls in love (without even meeting its people) already has a priest, a long-time and well-loved character. His sudden, subsequent death opens the position, and BBT is called to be the new rector. She faces issues of parishioners opposed to women clergy (still fairly new in TEC at that time) and the difficulty of replacing a loved pastor.
She also finds that, despite her love for the parish and its people, she is falling into the same distress she encountered in the larger church: "I had once again become so busy caring for the household of God that I had neglected the one who had called me there. If I still had plenty of energy for the work, that was because feeding others was still my food. As long as I fed them, I did not feel my hunger pains (75)."
Certainly, there are many ways for clergy to refresh themselves, but as BBT says, "The demands of parish ministry routinely cut me off from the resources that enabled me to do parish ministry. I knew where God's fire was burning, but I could not get to it (98)."
In addition to the personal-level issues, there is what BBT calls "the hardening taking place, not only at (my church) but at every church I knew. The presenting issue was human sexuality (105)."
BBT finds that she is troubled by the litigiousness of the church surrounding this and many issues...and the necessity to be "a defense attorney for those who could not square their love of God and neighbor with the terms of the Nicene creed (111)."
Just as she is finding her position more and more untenable, and begins looking for other options to pursue in life, she is offered a position as a professor of religion at a local college. She resigns her church (though remaining a priest) and becomes a full-time academic. From that position, she is able to reinvigorate her love affair with God, especially through nature.
It seems to me ironic (or something) that we should be reviewing this book just as the Anglican Communion is embroiled in some of our most divisive polity discussions in recent years.
The questions that this book raises, however, are well applicable to any and all denominations and believers who seek to serve Christ in his church - whether as priest, pastor, bishop, deacon, lay leader, musician, Sunday school teacher, nursery worker, potluck supper cook, person in the pew/folding chair.
BBT says, "All these years later, the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it...We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium (220)."
Many of you who will read this are from churches much less structured and hierarchical than The Episcopal Church. However, I wonder, to what extent do these problems face all churches?
What are you and your churches doing to carry out the Gospel in its true sense?
I am also interested in the wisdom and experience you bring to your reading of this book with regard to self-care and renewal for clergy and laity.
What Do You Think?
The questions above are merely suggestions. I encourage you to write in any direction you please. Your reflections are needed and desired; that's what will make this a DISCUSSION. And the discussion will continue as long as there is interest, so please check back here in the days to come!
You may share in the comments here, or, if you wish to post longer thoughts to your own blogs, please let us know in the comments that you have done so and where to find you.
Instructions on how to link inside the comment box are found at the foot of any Friday Five (I can't get it to reproduce here!) For a complete how-to, click here.
Let the discussion begin!