By Douglas LeBlanc
In the opening sentence of his first published fiction, the Rev. Brewster Hastings turns directly to a topic not normally associated with Episcopalians: “The exorcism was not going well.”
That deadpan opening sentence of The Only Way Out for Henry Clatt, which Hastings published through WestBow Press, is a fitting introduction. Readers who want the gory details of exorcism should consult The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, the observant Roman Catholic graduate of Georgetown University. Henry Clatt is folksy, humorous, and (at 107 pages) quick reading.
Hastings found his way into a ministry of deliverance through his experience of praying with people for divine healing. “If you take that seriously,” he said of divine healing, “you quickly become aware of the spiritual warfare that any Christian will have to face.”
Hastings is not a flamboyant personality who sees demons lurking around every corner. He writes and speaks about transpersonal evil, as he refers to it, in a matter-of-fact tone. In Henry Clatt, one of four heroic pastors borrows a phrase from Nathaniel Hawthorne, “the magnetic chain of humanity,” to speak about solidarity. As the pastor says, “the evil we do, or the evil done to us, weakens or breaks a link in this ‘magnetic chain of humanity.’ … [But] the Lord wants to mend the chain, repair the broken link. I’m sure he wants to get this poor Henry Clatt reconnected.”
That comforting language aside, Hastings is no advocate of self-help. The villain in Henry Clatt is Cassandra, the soothsaying leader of a personality cult who speaks of moving people closer to a mystical Circle and who oversees shaming rituals with the ease of Jim Jones.
Hastings followed an atypical path toward his ministry. Born in Princeton, he is a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Union Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1990, and has served as rector of St. Anne’s Church in Abington since 1994. He is working toward the doctor of ministry degree at Nashotah House.
He considered himself proto-orthodox in seminary, and that theological alignment was solidified in parish ministry. “I got the liberation impulse at Union,” he said of the longtime home of theologian James H. Cone, “but I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
He discovered deliverance ministry through the Rev. Mike Flynn, a retired priest of the Diocese of Los Angeles who directs FreshWind Ministries, and Francis S. MacNutt, the now-laicized Roman Catholic priest who moved the base of Christian Healing Ministries to Jacksonville in 1987 at the invitation of the Diocese of Florida.
Hastings told TLC that he wrote Henry Clatt as a tribute to his ecumenical brothers in ministry (the book’s Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic pastors are composite characters) and to “warn sensitive people that the New Age stuff out there is terribly dangerous.”
He’s mostly detached from concerns about whether the book sells well. “I wrote it for the sheer joy and pleasure of writing it, and I figured if anyone read it, it would be mostly for believers.”
He enjoyed hearing one reader tell him, “You made me want to go read the books you cited” — including People of the Lie, the late M. Scott Peck’s study of his experiences with evil and exorcisms.
He started writing Henry Clatt “two vacations ago,” Hastings said, and has written several short stories since its publication. Hastings credits his wife, Pamela, for finally moving his storytelling from mere concept to published work.
“When I grow complacent she says, ‘What’s your next book?’” He will publish Learning to Agree, a book of short stories, in October.
This article was first published in the September 7, 2014 issue of The Living Church.