The Real Life Adventures of a Wife, Mom, and Priest
By Sarah Condon
Mockingbird Publications. Pp. 164. $13.95
Review by Christine Havens
A friend glanced at the cover of Sarah Condon’s memoir, Churchy: The Real Life Adventures of a Wife, Mom, and Priest. He said it reminded him of dress pattern artwork, the kind he saw when shopping in fabric stores with his mother when he was young. I can see the resemblance — it’s a bright cover, fun and feminine. One might think the resemblance ends here.
This book is a memoir and yet doubles as a devotional, especially for mothers and wives who fret about the day-to-day messiness of their lives. Early on, Condon promises the reader that her book is not one of those “paperbacks that promise to unlock your hidden talents and awaken you to the power that lies within.” She holds true to this, patterning the book as a series of vignettes. She draws the reader into each chapter using events from her experience, often with self-deprecating humor. Early married life, hospitality, child-raising, growing up in Mississippi, and ordination are her fabric, from which the reader gains insight into the churchy patterns of Condon’s life as a Christian.
Grace abounds in this book. Condon’s willingness to share her brokenness and need for Christ through recounting of her life experience is what drives this book. She traces grace at work, reinforcing that this miracle happens in so many little and unexpected ways, and often despite our best intentions.
Condon also speaks to larger concerns within the Church, such as how vocation is addressed and the adherence to institutionalism. Her penultimate chapter, “The Old, Old Story That Turns the Church Around,” contains a question that centers on the Church’s struggles: “In a desperate desire to save an institution, are we forsaking God?” Condon reminds readers that we all rely on Christ, even the Church as a whole, and that “there is enormous relief” to be found in that.
The Episcopal Church is still celebrating (at least in the Diocese of Texas) the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women. Do not read this book, though, just to feel good about supporting a woman in the priesthood. After all, Condon lists priest as the last item in her “real life” list. As Condon says, “Ordained women are not here to be a good story. We are not here to serve some political agenda in the church. We are here solely to serve the Gospel. The rest is just noise.”
While at times Condon overgeneralizes, Churchy should be read by anyone eager to discover one person’s journey in understanding her brokenness and acknowledgment of what a life in Christ truly means. For those, especially women, who are wondering about their vocations, and for married couples in which at least one person is ordained, this work will resonate. It would make for an excellent book discussion.
Like a sewing pattern, which serves as a guide to creating some form of self-expression, this book might guide both women and men into a deeper life in Christ. It serves also as a reminder that external labels are only an indicator of the reality inside.
Christine Havens is a poet and writer and graduate of the Seminary of the Southwest whose work has appeared in The Anglican Theological Review and Forward Movement’s Daily Devo.