Lov­ing and Leav­ing a Church: A Pas­tor’s Jour­ney

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Nonfiction - JEREMIAH ROOD

Bar­bara Melosh West­min­ster John Knox Press (JULY) Soft­cover $18 (240pp) 978-0-664-26434-5

Bar­bara Melosh’s Lov­ing and Leav­ing a Church is a deeply per­sonal mem­oir that pro­vides fresh in­sight into the strug­gles of small main­line con­gre­ga­tions in Amer­ica.

Both a cler­gyper­son and a his­to­rian, Melosh writes with skill­ful at­ten­tion to de­tail and force­ful anec­dotes, work­ing to un­der­stand what hap­pened dur­ing her first stint in parish min­istry. Melosh brought her en­thu­si­asm, ex­cite­ment, and tal­ents to a small strug­gling Bal­ti­more con­gre­ga­tion, only to find that the con­gre­ga­tion wasn’t in­ter­ested.

This is not a new story, but what’s fas­ci­nat­ing is how thor­oughly Melosh is will­ing to ex­pose and ex­am­ine that painful and chal­leng­ing mo­ment in her ca­reer and in the life of her Bal­ti­more con­gre­ga­tion. The con­gre­ga­tion, Saints and Sin­ners, car­ries in its name a con­stant re­minder that ev­ery­body falls short. Melosh’s high hopes and as­pi­ra­tions clashed with the wishes of the con­gre­ga­tion, which pre­ferred to keep liv­ing in the church of the 1950s.

Melosh de­tails the out­reach that fell flat, the un­fail­ing fo­cus on the prob­lem­atic church build­ing at the ex­pense of other con­cerns, and the con­gre­ga­tion’s earnest de­sire to sim­ply re­main in ex­is­tence. It’s all here.

The book’s tone is en­gag­ing and per­sonal, high­light­ing the very hu­man as­pects of be­ing a pas­tor in a lo­cal parish. Melosh cov­ers the fa­tigue of her first Easter sea­son, the dif­fi­cul­ties of open­ing her home up at Christ­mas, and the over­rid­ing sense of be­ing “un­equipped” to re­ally do the work. There is more to be ex­plored—it is clear that it wasn’t lack of training that failed Melosh, but a lack of her con­gre­ga­tion’s will­ing­ness to change. Hid­den in the tragedy of missed ex­pec­ta­tions is a hope­ful mes­sage about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of find­ing faith.

Melosh’s is a story that needs to be heard by to­day’s church as it con­sid­ers how it will be­come the church of to­mor­row.

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