People of the Books: This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

Interpreter bought This Odd and Wondrous Calling at a conference about two years ago and showed it to me then, wanting to know if I wanted to borrow it.  I did, but I had too much else at the time—I was reading too much else at the time, which I often do when I stuff myself on the smorgasboard of books and genres in the world.  Wait, I said, wait; I can’t add anything else at the moment.

I forgot about it, because my memory is not the best about some things.  But he brought it with him to the hospital when I was in for my appendectomy this fall; he had not forgotten, even though his memory is not the best about some things.  I devoured it in less than a week, even on top of all the going-back-to-work-and-healing things that take time.  It’s an easy read in terms of writing style, although the dual author thing takes some getting used to; rather than trying to blend their voices, Daniel and Copenhaver alternate chapters. This creates a conversational style of trading anecdotes that is somewhat jarring but smoothes out some otherwise difficult topics—it doesn’t hurt that their backgrounds, sexes, and experiences are different, so the view you get of the profession is that much broader.  I’m so very glad I waited to read this, because I needed the extra year-and-some of experience in order to relate to these stories—but I’m also glad Interpreter remembered that this needed to make my reading list.

The thing that’s so great about this book is that it’s not a “how to be a better minister” or “why ministry is soul-depleting” or “everything in the ministry is roses” book.  It’s honest, which can be very, very hard to do in ministry.  And honesty, for these two (who are ministers, truly), means an affirmation of the highs and the lows of this incredibly complex calling.  There are some chapters about how amazing a moment of grace can be, but there are also chapters about the incredibly stupid moments of inanity that can happen—and there are nods to how often those two kinds of moments live right next to each other in a space of breaths.

The authors also address the life of ministers outside of church (and yes, just like teachers, they do have them).  Daniel and Copenhaver have a chapter each talking about their marriages and the impact of ministry, which is a brave thing because there are all kinds of studies that say ministry is a huge strain on marriage.  Copenhaver is married to a self-proclaimed pagan; I have no idea how I would handle that, because it would drive me nuts to have the person to whom I’m closest be so outside of what shapes my life and self.   In fact, I recently learned that a friend of mine (who has not yet been introduced to this…let’s call her Discretion, I think she’d get a kick out of that) that she is walking the “unequal yoke” road, so I told her about this book and admired that she could do that.  And Copenhaver addresses that and talks about the difficulties and the blessings, which definitely gave me food for thought. 

Alternatively, Daniel is married to a Christian and, being a girl, gets to talk about what it’s like to have a guy in the traditional “pastor’s wife” role.  Since my friend Talkative was married to a female preacher once and since I may be navigating those waters some day (eek), Daniel’s discussions of not only understanding 24/7 “professional faith” but also how to hold a marriage in a world of gender expectations were pretty interesting.  I have to admit I prefer Copenhaver’s writing style, but both have great stories to share.

The book is intimidating in terms of showing just a glimpse of the scope of ministry, but brilliant in neither putting ministry on an unattainable pedestal nor burying it in mud.  It’s funny and poignant, painful and accurate, beautiful, and imperfect.  I would suggest that anyone in ministry, considering ministry, connected to a minister or person considering ministry, or in contact with the ministerial life even tangentially read this.  Trust me.  It’s worth the time.


Rating:  5/5 stars  Five out of five stars

One thought on “People of the Books: This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

  1. […] (via non-profit work overseas), and it had the same effect of important-and-kind-of-amazing that This Odd and Wondrous Calling […]


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