Amy Plantinga Pauw
Eerdmans, 198 pages
Reviewed by Morgan Morse Hay
I was given Amy Plantinga Pauw’s book “Church In Ordinary Time” during a season of church life that was anything but ordinary. I was returning from a wonderful sabbatical to a criminal investigation into embezzlement by the church bookkeeper. As the book attests: “No pastor has to be reminded that church is an earthen vessel. The chips and cracks of its creatureliness are in full evidence.” During the investigation and subsequent criminal charges, it was hard to make room for reading this book, but once I finally dived into it I found it to speak not only to my current church situation but the situation of church life in general in these days, which seem to be anything but ordinary.
Pauw uses the wisdom literature to talk about how the church can be faithful in this liminal space in which we exist, “in the gap between the resurrection and the last things.” She posits that “church lives in this time between times, claiming the fundamental hopefulness of life in the Spirit of the risen Christ and glimpsing its promise and joy, while still enmeshed in the vulnerabilities and constraints of creaturely life.” In these days of rampant distrust and discord among people and even churches, we need to remember this call of love. This work is done in the ordinary days of church life, where “by word and sacrament, prayer and mission, the Spirit patiently teaches us new ways to live as creatures in God’s world, wiser ways of loving God and neighbor. Church in ordinary time aims to be a lifelong school of the Spirit, where in Augustine’s words, ‘we learn something every day.’”
I found “Church In Ordinary Time” to be an extremely helpful way to look at the church in this season of church life that feels somehow ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Even amid the unknown, “church is still called to rejoice in penultimate things: bodily life, family, friends, food, work, music, natural beauty, progress towards justice, and so many more reasons for joy.”
It was honestly a little hard to get into this book at first. I could blame it on the fact that there was a criminal investigation going on at the church, but the book was also a bit dense. Being over 10 years removed from seminary, it took me a while to ease back into the theological jargon. Once I did, it was worth it, but I am not sure that my elders would find it as helpful. I do think that pastors will appreciate the book, especially the framing of how the church moves in and out of the liturgical seasons and the reminder that there is always eschatological hope even in times of trial — and especially during actual trials! And thanks be to God for that!
Morgan Morse Hay is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, Georgia.