William C. Mills
Resource Publications, 170 pages
Reviewed by Stephen McCutchan
Father William Mills, or Bill as he prefers to be called, has provided us with an insider’s look at the spiritual journey of a priest. He is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
This memoir traces his journey from childhood, when he first sensed God’s call, through to his experience of the blessings and curses of serving God as an Orthodox priest. With searing honesty, sardonic humor, painful doubts and ennobling faithfulness, Bill invites us to travel his spiritual journey with him. A unique feature of his story is that we not only hear about his journey, but also his interior thought pattern as events unfold. Many Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy will recognize the parallel events of their own life’s journey. Many churchgoers may be uncomfortably reminded of the potential for cruelty within the church while also recognizing the healing moments of grace that exist within the most ordinary events in a church’s life. One of the aspects I liked most was how the book confirms that despite the historical factors that have led to the splintering of the One Body of Christ, we are all a body of humans that display our weaknesses but also demonstrate time and again that God’s power is revealed despite and through our weaknesses.
The real story behind the story that Bill tells with humor and insight is that God journeys with us, and failures as well as successes are fertile ground for spiritual growth. As a priest, Bill knew the lessons of faith as well as the torments of doubt. While he exercised his pastoral ministry to his congregation, a rebellion was stewing in his midst. When it erupted with a force that split his congregation, Bill descended into doubt, questioning everything that he had believed. Healing and restoration of faith came through a chance discovery of the Davidson Clergy Care Center, some colleagueship with other clergy, small gestures of support from members of the congregation and an inner courage to confront his fears and rediscover reasons for hope.
For both members of the Orthodox church and for the many of us who are only vaguely acquainted with this church that historically emerged out of the great split of the Body in 1000 AD, this personal and intimately honest memoir can serve as a contemporary parable that invites us to reflect on God’s presence in the “fully human yet fully divine” body of Christ that continues to offer its witness in our world.
This book will best be read in the company of other friends. In Bill’s spiritual journey you will discover insights about both your faith and the community we call church. You will laugh and cry, but you will also discover encouragement for a realistic faith that doesn’t deny the sinfulness of our world but experiences the power of grace to transform us. As you read his story, I invite you to keep Bill, his family and his church in your prayers even as you are blessed by his story. We are enriched as a faith community as we continue to pray for one another.
Stephen McCutchan is a Presbyterian consultant supporting the health of pastors, and the author of a nine-volume series, “Healthy Clergy Make Healthy Congregations.” He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.