A call to the Episcopalian priesthood initiates a period of grieving and a test of vocation.
Still a member of Trinity Episcopal, the Santa Barbara parish she wrote about so affectingly in Things Seen and Unseen (1998), Gallagher felt drawn to the ministry. Her brother Kit had recently died in New Mexico after a long illness, and she ponders the meaning of his life and death while also describing the yearlong process of “discernment,” during which a person feeling the call to ministry is considered by a select group of church members. Confronting the Christian faith’s most daunting and fundamental question, life after death, she was comforted by the notion that resurrection is about using the death of a loved one, and of Jesus, as a way of making a new life for ourselves as well, of “practicing resurrection.” By embracing their lives, and life itself, we can come to a sacred place. But before the author reached this place, where she gained insights into her vocation, she had to deal with changes in her parish and conflicts in her marriage and career. The vestry and congregation accepted a gay rector and decided to celebrate gay unions; her agnostic husband questioned her decision to be a priest; and she was troubled by the conflict between the bureaucratic demands of running a parish and the life of the spirit. Though of necessity more self-absorbed than in her previous work, Gallagher firmly places her experiences within the life of her church. She also describes the testing she underwent, as the church hierarchy assessed her spiritual, intellectual, and psychological fitness for the ministry. As the process neared its end, she had doubts of her own, not about faith but about fulfilling her other vocation as a writer in a busy ministry.
In Gallagher’s inspiring account, faith challenges and confuses as well as consoles.