The Rev Dr Ashley (Ash) Greeley is the 33-year-old narrator. He has been divorced for over a year, after his wife, Candice (an ex-"exotic dancer") had had a baby with a previous customer which had then been aborted. He is still "numbed with grief and pain". We are not told anything about his appearance beyond the fact that he has a "slender frame".
He feels that "Interim Ministry is definitely my calling. I enjoy living for a year or two in one place, helping a congregation find new leadership, then off to a new place and new challenges." He is always prepared to speak his mind, even at the risk of annoying some of his congregation, so, when shown the ancient stove in the manse, he says, "Would you want a stove this old in your kitchen?" When asked what sort of pastor he was, he wonders whether to call himself Presbyterian, moderate, or evangelical but settles for, "I am an interim pastor. My task is to help your congregation grieve losing Reverend Brogan (their previous minister who had died in a fire that had destroyed the old church which they were leaving to move to new premises), to help you hear what God is calling you to do and to be, and to help you discern the leadership necessary to fulfil God's mission here in Clarington."
Robert E Shaw was awarded a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Physics and Natural Sciences at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA. He became a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy where he was a nuclear physics instructor and supervised the operation of a naval submarine nuclear reactor.
He was subsequently ordained as a Presbyterian Deacon and then an Elder, and finally a Minister, after becoming a Master of Divinity at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He has twice served as an installed Pastor, and twice as an interim Pastor. He became a Synod Moderator, and currently pastors Christ Presbyterian Church, Crown Point, Indiana, where he is guiding the church through a period of international growth and development. He has written numerous technical reports, a book on Healthy Pastoral Transitions and the novel reviewed below.
Ashes to Ashley (2012)
Ashes to Ashley describes how, in the year 2000, Interim Pastor Ashley Greeley arrives in Clarington as the ashes from the Trinity Presbyterian Church fire settle, believing he need only help them grieve losing their former pastor whose burnt body had been found in the ruins. He learns that Pastor Brogan had been planning to sell the building to a strip-joint owner, and was far from popular ("Brogan got what he deserved") and several members had been ready to fire him. Some even wondered if it was he who had set the church on fire. No wonder Greeley gets a "knot in my belly that told me I should run away." What he had been hoping for was "a year of rest" out in the country.
However, he befriends attractive Detective Joan Campbell who uses her investigation of the fire to develop a close working relationship with him; a relationship which both enjoy despite Pastor Greeley's recognition of the potential conflict of interest. Greeley's continuing ministry with prostitutes fans the fires of discord prompting new threats, this time with Greeley himself in increasing danger.
The great strength of the book lies in the author's familiarity with the work of an interim pastor, and time and again the details sound totally convincing, as when he's describing the proceedings of awkward committees, the time-wasting behavior of a church worker, people's ritual statements and platitudinous comments about his sermons as they leave his church, or the behaviour of individual members of the congregation, as when a fiercely critical old lady demonstrates how the previous pastor used to help himself to more than his fair share of berries in a pie. You cannot help wondering if all this had really happened to the author himself. Even the description of an awful meal rings true: "The chicken had been fried to a crisp; the vegetables had been boiled to a pulp; the instant potatoes tasted of cardboard, and the coleslaw was oily," and not only does the poor pastor have to eat inedible cookies but take some home with him, although "not even the birds that came to my feeder would eat them." But there are moments, as when he had been able to help an ex-prostitute realise that "Although she had avoided God, God had not neglected her", that "offset all the hard inhuman moments of ministry".
Greeley behaves impeccably during his relationship with Detective Campbell but is very conscious of having two personas, as when his "Ashley persona smiled considering her attire while my Pastor Greeley persona formulated an excuse" for so doing. This distinction gets to sound a bit artificial, especially when duty takes then to places like Tim's Pyjama Party where "most of the regulars wear pyjamas or lingerie. A few try to push the limits" and the "appetisers, entrees, drinks, and deserts were sorted by chapters titled, Foreplay, Intercourse, Fluids, and Afterglow." Meanwhile Judy Campbell is saying, "Can we just talk about us?" but "there was no us. I did clearly explain that weeks ago." Greeley's pastor persona is fully in control. And he remains in control when Judy, in the interests of protecting him from a threatened attack, and complete with surveillance cameras, moves into his house (but not his bed) and the pair of them sit in 'matching pyjamas'. Sharing devotions."
It all ends with a melodrama in which an improbable character with a gun threatens to shoot the pair of them as a punishment for their "sinful ways" ("I can't wait to tell Jesus how I purified his church") and conveniently admits to murdering the previous pastor. It is followed by eleven unnecessary discussion questions which the final one is "Did Pastor Greeley break his pledge not to date parishioners? Under what circumstances might a pastor date a parishioner?" It's not really the important question in the world.
The author has his own blog and there is a page about him on Smashwords and on LinkedIn.
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