David Neville: December 2017
Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber
What a marvellous book! It is written by a Lutheran pastor in Denver, Colorado USA. She is no ordinary pastor, but in early life struggled with drugs, alcohol and depression and is heavily tattooed on arms and body. The Lutheran Church she started is called 'House for All Sinners and Saints'!! What would that look like on our plan? The rapidly growing congregation is made up of a whole mixture of seemingly disparate folk with many LGBT people as well as regular family groups and those who seem to be outsiders. The ethos of the Church is community with all members taking part in liturgy and all welcome to communion whether baptised or not. Her Church seems to be a peculiar mix of 'Do-it -Yourself ' Christianity combined with a great deal of Lutheran liturgy and ceremony.
The nineteen chapters of the book stand alone and for preachers there is a sermon in each! She typically takes an encounter with one of her congregation or some other and through it shows how God can be in all kinds of difficult situations, showing a solution or giving guidance or just illustrating His love for each person. Often this involved a revelation or struggle for Nadia herself who had to rethink what God intended. Sometimes she found a great problem in reconciling her faith, beliefs and thinking with the harsh world of reality and was conflicted about what was really right. An example was when a congregational friend invited her to his gun club, this was on the surface anathema to her who believed in gun control and was disturbed by the proliferation of guns in America. However she went and found she was very thrilled by the experience and got a real adrenaline rush from firing a pistol! She was upset however to find that this man carried a gun around normally and even to church. Not long after, her own mother was terrorised by someone who was threatening to kill her, which naturally alarmed her. Then her brother who lived near her mother said he would look after her and himself then carried a gun with him, even when taking his mother to church — Nadia was relieved but found this was incompatible with her basic belief!
Several things came out of the discussion. One was about the Rapture, which Nadia has a chapter about, which made us emphasise the danger of basing a whole programme of belief on just a few isolated bible verses. She also had a chapter about Judas Iscariot and wondered what might have happened if he not committed suicide, but allowed Jesus to forgive him, just as Peter had. Would he have become a valued Apostle in spreading the Gospel? This made us discuss suicide and it was felt that sometimes when there was no future hope for a person due to terrible pain and infirmity it was acceptable. This passage also led us to agree that forgiveness was extremely important in life both for the one being forgiven and the one offering forgiveness. This was the route to reconciliation and inner peace.
Many other things were discussed particularly with regard to who takes care of our ministers. Nadia had other Christian friends she went to often when upset or when not knowing the correct path to take. Do we in our church have robust means for our ministers to get help and advice or simply to share problems?
Interestingly this church indulged in regular confession and absolution, in line with Lutheran practice. It was pointed out that early Methodism also practised this, but through the Class Meeting.
Much more could be said, and we want to read her earlier book about her own life, so if you have been intrigued then see a member of our group who will probably be able to lend it to you.