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Finding Ministry Help in the Novels of Susan Howatch

March 07, 2013

Do you want an opportunity to reflect on your ministry while entertaining yourself? During a recent bout with both kinds of flu, I amused myself by re-reading Susan Howatch's Church of England series of novels. These books are far more than entertainment, however. Clergy from many traditions can learn from reading this series.

Howatch brilliantly weaves together theology, church politics, spirituality, sexuality and family of origin issues. We all can benefit from encountering the themes she articulates:

  • You don't have to be perfect to serve God.
  • Differing theological perspectives enrich the church.
  • Understanding the family forces that have shaped you (and reframing them for yourself) can enhance your ministry.
  • Your biggest issues are ones you will face again and again in your life, and have the chance to learn and grow from them.

Howatch came to faith in mid-life. She started as a gothic novelist, moved to family sagas, and began to study theology at a time of personal crisis. She lived in the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral. She began to learn about church life, and started to write her next book about the Church of England, beginning in the 1930s.

These books would be a great resource for a clergy group to read and discuss. I've read them all more than once, some of them several times. While I love them as fiction, I also find myself thinking about my own faith, prayer life, ministry and family every time. Try them out. There are six in the "Starbridge" series and three in the later St. Benet's series. The first is Glittering Images. Here is more information about Howatch and a list of the books. Most of them are still in print, and they are all now available in electronic form.

What novels have you found helpful for your ministry?

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