"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Loss and Gain (I)

In 1848 Newman published a novel, Loss and Gain, which was about a young man at Oxford converting to Catholicism. The Orthodox priest and pastoral theologian Bill Mills is not converting to Catholicism, but Newman's theme came to mind in re-reading Mills' wonderful memoir, Losing My Religion. The life of the Christian in general, and of pastoral ministry in particular, is very much one of losing and gaining: losing time, losing struggles for perceived goods, losing beloved friends and parishioners through death, moving away, or irreconcilable conflicts.

But it is also about gaining far more than one realized. Those to whom, ostensibly, one ministers are often the bearer of amazing gifts that come wholly unexpected. I got tastes and glimpses of this in the 1990s in Ottawa when I was involved with providing pastoral care in a large downtown nursing home for several years and when also, during the same period, I worked regularly at a suicide distress centre.

Both of these dynamics come out in  Losing My Religion. In the rest of this series, I'll highlight some of the especially valuable lessons, but also humourous anecdotes, in this book, about which the publisher provides the following blurb:

After four years of college and six years in seminary, William Mills was ready for a parish--or so he thought. He didn't realize much of his time would be endless discussions about bagels and coffee, digging ditches, and parking lot condom patrols.
For six years, community life was just humming along. Then disaster struck. Mills' life came crashing down when nearly a third of his congregation left in a public power play, causing him to question his faith in himself, in the church, and in God. Marva Dawn, a noted writer of spirituality and ministry, said that being a pastor is like being peppered with popcorn: after a while, you just get tired of it, pack your bags, and move on. However, as Mills himself says, "I was either too stubborn or stupid, so I stayed."
Losing My Religion is about the ups and downs, ins and outs, choices and challenges of being a pastor in the twenty-first-century church. It's also about the redemptive power of community life and finding healing and wholeness in a broken world.

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