I have my wish with this book. Written by two “someones,” both highly successful United Church of Christ pastors representing different genders and generations, This Odd and Wondrous Calling invites the reader into their public and private lives. Both Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver not only have superb writing skills, but have the ability to take the ordinary situations that pastors face virtually every day, and amidst all the demands on their time from church and family, are able to find extraordinary grace and even humor.
Each chapter in and of itself is worthy of a full discussion among pastors. We have all stood at the door following the worship service and have shaken the hands of parishioners, but rarely if ever have we reflected pastorally and theologically as we find in the chapter “Shaking Hands.” Many pastors have struggled with the issue of tithing … before or after taxes? Rarely if ever has there been such an open struggle written by a pastor, who was finally converted by a financial planner.
There is an article on “Being Married to a Minister,” and one on “Being Married to a Pagan.” Copenhaver reflects on what it was like to be a P.K. (a preacher’s kid) and what it is like to have children who are P.K.s, noting that “if you have to ask what a P.K. is, then this invitation is not for you.” Daniel wonders whether she can be friends with parishioners and draws upon her days as a member of a traveling band to discover how that prepared her to answer a call to the ministry. He reflects on what it is like to be a patient in the hospital and on the receiving end of prayers, including a bedside prayer from his associate. She reflects on the tensions and joys of being an associate pastor.
The 28 brutally honest yet hope-filled chapters are a pleasure to read and hard to put down. This is a book any number of clergy groups could use as a starting point for further discussion into the nature of ministry and the “odd and wondrous calling” that we have received. Further, it might help us articulate an answer in a new way to the old question: “Why in the world would you choose to stay?”
The final chapter answers in part that question. We are reminded of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s comment upon his retirement, “If I had a thousand lives to live in this century, I would go into parish ministry with every one of them.”
But then he concludes: “But, with just one life to live on this earth, I am grateful that God called me to be a pastor. And I am staying.”
I am glad both he and Daniel have not only stayed, but shared why they have stayed in such an eloquent, inviting manner. I put the book down and thought, “Aha! Me too.”
STEPHEN R. MONTGOMERY is pastor of Idlewild Church in Memphis Tenn.