Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman by Ashley-Anne Masters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I hoped this would be good. I expected it to be good. But I didn't expect it to be this good.
First of all, I have to admit that there was another book in my mind as I started reading this - "A Church of Her Own" by Sarah Sentilles. I was deeply troubled by that book. I completely trusted the veracity of the difficult experiences the women Sentilles interviewed. No doubt about it, terrible things happen in the church. But I struggled with the one-sidedness of the critique. The anger of the critique. Sentilles has little love for the church, and it shows on every page of her book. I was disappointed that "A Church of Her Own" did not reflect my experience in ministry, and deeply hoped that "Bless Her Heart" would.
Oh, does it ever.
That's the first thing I loved about this book. The vast majority of it resonated with me, or with stories I have heard from friends. I loved that the authors spoke in the first person plural; at first I thought it was just a matter of their co-authorship, but then I realized that it accomplished a great feat: helping young clergy women understand that they are not alone. They are part of a great "we".
Several times they had me so pegged I had to laugh. I was completely weepy at the end of the chapter called "Pregnant in the Pulpit", and turned the page only to discover through tear-filled eyes that the next chapter was called "Jesus Wept: The Role and Power of Emotions." Of course, by the end of that chapter I was in tears again. Don't be fooled by the seemingly "light" quality of this book, what with its chapters on pedicures and hemlines. It delves right into the heart of what it means to be a minister - just, as it so happens, a minister in lipstick.
But the most wonderful element of this book is how saturated it is in scriptures. Nearly every page includes biblical allusions or metaphors or illustrations. Many if not most young clergy women have had their calls questioned by people using scripture "against" us. To read such a profoundly biblical understanding of women in ministry was so empowering.
By no means does this book paint a rosy picture of ministry; rather, the narratives reveal a complicated but ultimately blessed way of life. And, the authors gently encourage a vision and practice of ministry that keeps love for God and community at the center. The closing narrative captures this perfectly; "I am aware of the sacrifices I have made of this ministry... But, for me, I love this church, and feel blessed to be a part of the lives of the members of the congregation. It has been quite the challenge, but I am glad that God has given me the strength and wisdom to enjoy this ministry."
Thank you so much to Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith. I only wish you'd written this ten years ago!
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