Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir
by Andrew Taylor-Troutman
Resource Publications, 148 pages
reviewed by MARY HARRIS TODD
Here is some of the advice I’ve heard directed at people beginning new pastorates: “Don’t make any changes your first year” and “Use the ‘honeymoon’ to make changes while you can.” Behind it is the belief that the pastor’s job is to enlighten and fix what’s wrong in the congregation. And then there’s this advice: “Love the congregation.”
That’s what Andrew Taylor-Troutman took to heart when he began his first pastorate in a small church in the farming community of Dublin, Va. He expected to find faith, and he did. He expected to meet God among the people, and he did. In “Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir” he reflects on their first year together.
Taylor-Troutman demonstrates how sermons are born out of the lives of the congregation and the pastor as well as the encounter with the text. Each chapter explores questions arising in congregational life such as, “Where is God when people suffer?” or “What does it mean to welcome children fully in the church?” and then concludes with a sermon growing out of these explorations. The sermons often point out seldom-mentioned dimensions of the text. For example, when was the last time you considered the servants who went with Abraham and Isaac to Mt. Moriah?
Taylor-Troutman shows deep respect for his parishioners’ faith, gifts and viewpoints, as well as their language, culture and heritage. He views their struggles and foibles with compassion. He has listened to them so well that we can hear their voices and the lessons they teach throughout the book. We hear, for example, the elder’s urgent whisper, “Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!” the first time he presided over communion, when he was headed toward the conclusion without serving the elders. The congregation smiled and understood. With gentle humor they have given their pastor grace upon grace, teaching him to have more compassion for his own struggles and foibles. As a wise member later put it, “Andrew, you might as well learn now that you will never be able to do everything right.” Indeed, he is learning that “some mistakes are actually gifts”; that if you go to the wrong house on a pastoral visit, you will still end up in the right place; and that even if you aren’t satisfied with your sermon, God can still speak grace through it. Moreover, sometimes a story told by a church member by the fireside speaks the Gospel more fully and eloquently than the preacher can.
Taylor-Troutman models how to stand humbly with the congregation before the text. In the practice of Sabbath-keeping and in the theology of the cross, he finds wisdom for living together in Christian community despite deep differences of opinion. He also believes that cherishing tradition does not have to hinder the church from reaching young people and moving into the future. Relationships modeling God’s love can hold tradition and change together. A young adult himself, he makes this intriguing statement: “I believe that we can reach out to youth without new services or new music or new ideas.”
My advice to new and seasoned pastors alike: Read this book.
MARY HARRIS TODD is pastor of the Morton Presbyterian Church in Rocky Mount, N.C. Visit with her at “The Mustard Seed Journal.” maryharristodd.wordpress.com