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This lively narrative presents some provocative thinking about the role of religion in society. Looking back from nowadays, the minister, Robert Staten, tells the story of his own struggle with the question while he was working in a southern parish in the nineteen-fifties. His stance is that of a progressive, who nevertheless grew up in fundamentalist pietism. Pastor, like the Church-of-England based novels of Susan Howatch, is both sympathetic and realistic. The first-person narratives by the minister and others important to the story draw you right into their skin. Hence, the book is somewhat like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The impacts of Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other religious leaders are not neglected in chapters like “Vocation” and “Religion on the Midway”. The narrative gets to the heart of social and religious issues that are very much with us today. The young minister is a WWII air force veteran, and his wife is a former social studies teacher from upstate New York.. They work together to help make the church succeed. All the while, the protagonist is being urged by his ‘big brother’ friend, Charles, to kick the traces and change his vocation. The antagonist friend represents about every negative criticism of organized religion one can imagine. The book vividly describes various aspects of parish life as the conscientious pastor goes about his duties, which include counseling and consoling, marrying and burying. All the while he is wrestling with his own misgivings about his role and his faith. Then, suddenly, catastrophe hits in the form of a mysterious church fire. This and other revealing episodes broaden his understanding of religion in our pluralistic world.

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