Marney Ault Wasserman
Wipf & Stock, Eugene Ore. 120 pages
Reviewed by Chip Andrus
It is not often that a resource comes our way that can be commended for every church regardless of size, demographic, denomination, theological worldview or any other category we use to describe communities of faith. Marney Wasserman has given the church a tremendous gift in “Companions.” I recommend that every church keep multiple copies of this book on hand. Rarely do we find resources that are so adaptable to every context. It offers a spiritual, theological and biblical grounding that gives a solid foundation for the rich encounter of conversation and prayer to emerge.
Many of us are familiar with “new member classes” or other information-centered ways of engaging people who are interested in joining the church. These programs abound, and in a culture of anxiety over church growth they seem to be intentionally or unintentionally driven to one end: church growth, meaning more members.
“Companions” offers another model with a more valuable end. This resource encourages intentional practices that are simple to implement, yet can powerfully transform everyone involved, including the whole community of faith. “Companions” begins as a way to build friendships, deeply rooted in faith and practice – especially, but not limited to, guests seeking a church home. Wasserman does not assume that church membership will always be the final outcome. The practice she encourages builds relationships based on Christ-like hospitality that is grounded in Scripture, conversation and prayer.
The encounter is one that will benefit others regardless of whether they join your church or not. It seeks to transform people’s lives through friendship and faithful practices of reading and discerning Scripture together as well as praying for one another. Through this process the whole church will be deepened in its faith, hospitality and engagement with others. All this sounds very simple, however, as you read through this resource you will find that the wisdom of Wasserman, who has always been dedicated to deepening the faith and practice of the church she has been called to serve, sparks your imagination and addresses so many important things you may not immediately consider.
Wasserman also approaches everything with a spirit of generosity and openness. This resource is not a prescription or program; it is a beautiful description of a way to build the body of Christ in any context. I have served large churches, small rural churches with a handful of members, medium size churches and a new church development, and as I read this book I could see how this resource would have been extremely helpful in every context.
With the PC(USA)’s plan to launch 1001 new worshipping communities (as well as so many other denominations who are developing non-traditional ways of doing worship), this resource will be of value to the leaders of these communities.
This is not a pastor-driven initiative, but every pastor should read and have this book easily accessible. Pastors are vital to the process Wasserman encourages, however, faithful members with the gift of hospitality (sharing their faith and listening intentionally to others) are the ones who lead the way.
In today’s ecclesial context, this is one of the most important resources offered to the church. Thank you Marney Wasserman!
Chip Andrus is pastor of South Salem Presbyterian Church in South Salem, New York.