Learning How to Minister: Being a Neighbor

George MacDonald was a Scottish minister, author, and poet. He is remembered for his compelling fairy tales and fantasies such as Princess and the Curdie, Lilith, and Phantastes. He did much to shape the imagination of the generation that followed him, inspiring the likes of W.H. Auden, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and many others. In fact, C.S. Lewis believed he owed a great debt to MacDonald, crediting MacDonald with “baptizing” his imagination at a young age.

I first read MacDonald as a college student, dipping into some of his poetry–Diary of An Old Soul, to be exact. I was struck immediately. Here was a man who possessed a unique voice, with great proficiency at connecting metaphors and images, casting new light on old truths. I passed through his writing, collecting a strong sense of wonder and grace. He had a way of making truth beautiful. As Rolland Hein once noted, “Among MacDonald’s gifts is the ability to make goodness attractive and Christian living seem the only sensible course for one’s life.”

Though MacDonald’s theology can be confusing, suspect, and at times (it appears) heterodox, he should not be written off. He should be read carefully for sure, but he should be read. He has much to contribute, even when you have to do some sifting.

During a semester break in seminary I returned to MacDonald, and I read his book, Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood. I’m so glad I did. It is a story about MacDonald’s own experiences as a pastor. It is reflective and wise, providing a parish styled setting to display the normal strangeness of pastoral life and practice. This time of year always reminds me of the opening paragraph of chapter 3, a snapshot of a pastor’s Monday in autumn, trying to figure out how to minister in the village.

“So after breakfast, on as lovely a Monday in the beginning of autumn as ever came to com format a clergyman in the reaction to his efforts to feed his flock on the Sunday, I walked out and too my way to the village. I steve to dismiss from my mind every feeling of DOING DUTY or PERFORMING MY PART, and all that. I had a horror of becoming a moral policeman as much as of ‘doing church.’ I would simply enjoy the privilege, more open to me in virtue of my office, of ministering. But as no servant has a right to force his service, so I would be the NEIGHBOR only, until such time as the opportunity of being the servant should show itself.” 

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