Friday, 10 February 2017

Some of a Book Review of Churchy by Sarah Condon

Churchy [Mockingbird 2016 180 p.]  is a  non-fictional version of chick lit which shares Sarah Condon’s unvarnished personal vignettes that seeks to lead readers towards retrospective religious reflections. It is published by Mockingbird Ministries, which strives to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh down-to-earth ways. No one will mistake Sarah Condon’s Churchy musings as mundane faith history.

"St." Flannery O'Connor
Churchy’s subtitle is “The Real Life Adventures of a wife, mom and priest”.   Truth be told, she thinks that the real title ought to have been: “Churchy Prodigal Daughter Who Is the Worst” which packs in a lot of theology, but those leitmotifs were already taken. Clearly, Condon is influenced by Southern Goth, as demonstrated by her reverence to “St.” Flannery O’Connor. This honorific should be no surprise as she attributed sainthood to Whitney Houston in prior Mockingbird articles 

Condon is an Episcopal priest who is married to another Episcopal priest pastoring a  parish in Houston Texas.  Sarah Condon’s ministry has included hospital ministry, in the dreaded “Liver Floor” filled with alcoholic patients in need of organ donations.

Rev. Sarah Condon 
After hearing Sarah speak at a retreat, I was prepared for her irreverent, earthy rhetoric (but the harshest epithets published were “holy shit” and “bullhockey”) to accompany her vivid story telling.  I noted that a couple of the vignettes were reworked into part of her speaking repertoire.  

Since my Roman Catholic tradition neither has many married clergymen (much less priestesses), I was interested in understanding her vocation as well as appreciating the strains of family life with clerical duties.   Honestly, this angle was not clear.  Most of Churchy seemed drawn from the lens of a Churchy mother who was wont to extrapolate theological truths from the quotidian.

Condon’s view on her vocation was not crystal clear. In the introduction, she noted that: 

“Josh [her husband] and I are both Episcopal priests. But most Sundays, you will see me in the pews with my children. On occasion, I stand behind the altar and celebrate communion.”  

As someone who understands sacramentality as a key distinction between the laity and the ordained, it seemed like  anonchalant approach to take a priestly vocation yet to only feel obliged to “stand behind the altar” from time to time. 

Regarding her role as an off hours hospital chaplain, Condon conceded that she often hears the awkward inquiry: “What do you do for a living?”  She modestly asserts that she utters  a ratio 70%-30% stupid to wise things while “bumbling around” hospital wards. This underplays  the vital mission of just being present to  those who may be on the precipice of death. Such companioning in Christ echoes tenants of Ignatian spirituality which Pope Francis has been championing during his papacy.

In the chapter which contains the Cereal Aisle Stranger section, Sarah Condon wrote: 

“And there is the issue of me telling strangers what my husband and I do for a living while standing in front of a row of Fruit Loops.” 

Kind of surreal small talk in the Cereal Section. Yet the way that Sarah described the query as being about what they did for a living rather than refer to their priestly vocations or ministries. That particular turn of phrase niggled at me.

Condon’s later  reflections on her household concluded: 

“Meanwhile, I bring in some income with writing and part-time ministry work, put food in the crock pot, spend an incredible amount of time with my children and talk on the phone to my mom, a lot.”  

Sarah’s description of her role is a dose of honesty mixed in with a good measure of self-deprecating humor. However, it begs a poignant question –Should ordination be deemed just a part time job or a vocation of sacerdotal service to the people of God?  It is certainly unusual for a priest to be married to a priest while raising a family. I again wonder about how there can be sufficient self sacrifice to the needs of the faithful. Can active priests really be part-timers?

SEE MORE at DC-LausDeo.US 

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