Watch out for those pastors who become authors.
Not just me. There are more of us out there. Let me tell you about Steve McCutchan. I knew of Steve while I lived in Winston-Salem; I had heard of his work with the Presbyterian Interracial Dialogue; I knew of his leadership in the Presbytery. When Tammy and I were engaged, we quickly realized that our church was too small to hold the number of guests we had invited. Steve graciously allowed us to have the ceremony in the beautiful sanctuary of Highland Presbyterian, the church where he was serving.
Tammy and I moved, first to Florida and then to Ohio. We packed up, moved on to the next chapters in the adventure to which God called us. Some acquaintances became fond memories.
Earlier this year, I came across Steve on Twitter. I hadn’t talked with him since we left North Carolina. Lo and behold, I discover that in his retirement, he has devoted himself to writing full time. I bought his book Let’s Have Lunch, a chronicle of the development of the Presbyterian Interracial Dialogue.
Then Steve emailed me and said he had another book, a mystery …
I was intrigued.
Before long, I received an advance copy of A Star and a Tear. This book kept me turning pages – the hero, Frank Sessions, is a pastor recovering from the devastating loss of his wife. When a serial rapist terrorizes the community, Frank finds himself at the center of a witch hunt stirred up by a local radio personality. Before long, Frank is personally embroiled in the hunt to find the rapist and stop him before he turns more violent.
The book is full of very mature themes, but it is a page-turner. Steve approaches these themes from a spiritual perspective.
So, Steve and I concocted this idea of an e-mail interview, to talk about storytelling, what it is to be a writing pastor, and this new book that he has published. Because of the length, I’m breaking this interview up into two posts. Here is part 1 (My questions in bold, Steve’s answers in normal type):
Q: The south is an oral culture, rooted in storytelling. Every southern preacher worth his or her salt learns to tell a good story. So, why this story at this time?
When I was a child, respect for the ministry was very high in our society. With all the scandals and church fights, the church and it’s pastors have fallen in the public respect. Both with my three volumes of Clergy Tales—Tails, and now my mystery novel, A Star and a Tear, I want to share the stories of the many dimensions of clergy life. I want the public to understand the challenge of ministry, its temptations, and its satisfactions. I want “to build respect for clergy one story at a time.
In addition, several years ago when the stories of clergy sexual abuse came to light, I began to ask myself why a person, clergy or otherwise, would be willing to risk everything they had worked for and believed for a brief physical experience. As I prepared for the novel, I realized that there is a strange symbiotic relationship between sexuality and spirituality that provides the basis for a good story.
Q: The title “A Star and a Tear” refers to an important instance in Frank’s life when God moved subtly to make Frank aware of His presence. How did you come up with that image, and how does it reflect what you’ve experienced in pastoral ministry?
I’m not really sure how that image emerged. I have tried in a number of stories that I’ve written to describe the subtle and creative way that God calls people. In my own case, when I was a little boy, I saw a filmstrip of David Livingston walking in the jungle and that was the beginning of my wanting to be part of the clergy.
The main idea that I wanted to convey in the novel scene is that God can speak to you in the most unlikely of circumstances when God is the furthest thing from your mind. Yet the biggest clue to the authenticity of God’s call is that you sense that you are part of something far bigger than your own personal life and how you respond is important.
Q: As a pastor who is a novelist, I found it really interesting that we both created protagonists who were greiving and who experience healing through pursuing something beyond themselves. talk a little bit about the different ways your characters experience healing of their wounds.
First, let me say that I think pastors experience a lot of personal grief that few people, including the pastor, fail to recognize. We help people through traumatic experiences, suffer loss when members we value decide to leave the church, are asked to compromise our beliefs and behaviors in order to not upset others, and many other actions that cause us personal grief. It is common wisdom to counsel people not to make important decisions while they are experiencing grief, yet pastors have to do that all the time.
In the novel, Frank has been grieving not only because of his wife’s death but also because he bears a lot of grief for a seemingly unimportant action on his part that resulted in her death. He emerges from his grief when he discovers that he can help his city in a time of crisis. As he begins to focus beyond himself, he rediscovers the meaning of his ministry.
A Star and a Tear is available on Amazon, in both Kindle and print editions.
To be continued in the next post
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The Fine Print: I received no compensation from Steve for this interview other than the warmth of his Christian fellowship and a complementary review copy of the book. However, purchases made through all of this site’s links to Amazon do provide a modest remuneration to me. Thanks for your support.