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Tending the Holy

Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry
by Bruce G. Epperly and Katherine Gould Epperly 
Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2009 
196 pages
Reviewed by Toni Stone

As one engaged in parish ministry, I can attest to the long hours, competing demands, back-to-back meetings, pastoral emergencies, counseling sessions, and janitorial duties that are part and parcel of pastoring a faith community. As a spiritual director who companions pastoral ministers, I witness the struggle of these dedicated people to find time to attend to their own spiritual lives or to experience God in the day-to-day challenges and conflicts of community life. Tending the Holy is written to specifically address the spiritual lives of those ministers, ordained or lay, who bear the title Pastor. This is an ambitious book, covering the breadth of pastoral practice in five chapters and treating in turn the areas of preaching, teaching, worship, spiritual guidance, pastoral care, leadership, administration, and hospitality. The authors write from their own experience of community leadership and work in the formation and guidance of seminary students and pastors. They utilize anecdotes and examples from their own, as well as others’, practice of ministry to illustrate not only the challenges but the joys and rewards of “practicing the presence of God in ministry.” Each chapter concludes with suggestions for spiritual practices “intended to awaken your experience of God’s presence in the everyday tasks of ministry” (15).

The most challenging—and potentially most helpful—chapters are those that address leadership, administration, and hospitality. The authors recognize that “many pastors believe that authentic ministry occurs primarily when they are called to share others’ moments of transformation and healing. They have difficulty experiencing God’s spirit in the quotidian details of budgets, building management, and personnel supervision” (136-137). The authors detail ways to pray the tasks that seem most divorced from the spiritual aspects of ministry. They treat the subject of offering hospitality to difficult people with clarity and honesty.

Tending the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry is addressed to a fairly narrow audience, namely Protestant Christian pastors. Yet there is advice here for anyone looking for ways to incorporate prayer and an awareness of God into her or his working life. While the book does not directly address spiritual direction, it does speak to the issues that pastors may bring to spiritual direction. Spiritual directors may wish to utilize some of the questions incorporated into each chapter. Questions such as “Where have you experienced God’s presence in response to the pain of another” (95) can be the basis of fruitful reflection in a spiritual direction session. This book could be overwhelming with all the information, advice, questions to ponder, and suggestions for spiritual practices incorporated into each chapter. However, I will recommend Tending the Holy to the pastors I accompany with the caveat that they read this book in small bites and that they do not try to incorporate every suggestion made by the authors.

Toni Stone, MDiv, is a spiritual director living in Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, and serving as a lay pastoral associate for the Light of Christ Ecumenical Catholic Community in Longmont, Colorado.

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