I've struggled with how to begin this blog post, a review for Emily M. D. Scott's book, For All Who Hunger: Searching for Communion in a Shattered World. So I'm gonna cry uncle and use the big word that came to mind when I began reading Pastor Scott's precious, first book.
It's a word the author applies to herself a fair amount - "That fall, I build a thick skin for awkwardness." (54), "at community meetings. I settle on an awkward white-lady-lurking posture..." (124), "When my dreaded archnemesis Awkwardness shows up..." (52). But it immediately comes to mind because for the vast majority of the book Pastor Scott herself is honest about how much and how often she feels ill-fitted to the life to which she's been called.
As a pastor: "I became a Lutheran pastor against my will. I never really meant to. At gatherings of Lutheran clergy, I don’t fit in. I am young, I am female, I am not married, I do not have children" (14).
On strings of bad dates and shaken self-worth:
"I remind myself that my worth isn’t based on men who aren’t interested in me. But when you keep getting low scores from strangers, it’s hard not to think of yourself as a low score" (84).
Even when she's being decisive and powerful:
"I call the property manager from baggage claim and feign an authoritative voice. “The basement is still filled with four inches of water and you expect me to sign a lease?”
Most poignantly, how her advocacy efforts always feel insufficient: "The days are patchy and episodic. We’re playing each day by ear, plans changing at the last minute based on which trains are running... Everything feels fragmented. Every day is piled with contingencies" (post-Hurricane Sandy, 105). "The phrase “Black Lives Matter” feels uncomfortable on my lips... because I know how terribly far I am from my life not mattering... I could have been holding a real gun, and [the police] would have coaxed it out of my hands" (Black Lives Matter, 111). "The Gowanus Houses [a housing project in Brooklyn and neighbor to her first church-plant, St. Lydia's ] seem like an impenetrable fortress... I’ve made sheepish phone calls to the Gowanus Houses Residents’ Council and left messages, but never heard back" (116).
Most of this book finds Pastor Emily calmly spelling out how she gave her all, starting this little dinner church in Brooklyn, and how often - for her - she feared that her "all" wouldn't be enough. She's always stretched between one situation and the next, one relationship or another, ever dependent on others to do things she can't, bouncing between anxieties and insecurities, and talks about all these things with complete naturalness and humility. And that's when I started to understand thing that makes her story so valuable, so precious, and why I felt so awkward when I first started reading.
In most spiritual memoirs, as I've read in the past and as I'd expected from Scott's as well, the crafting of each chapter and verse invariably turns the author into a kind of protagonist, a hero, doing their best to share with us the precious distillations of insight from their triumphs and failures. Pastor Emily doesn't do that here, though. She does no such sculpting, no such distillation, none.
And not once in the book does she ever present herself as a hero, not even of her own story. And that awkwardness that I felt reading the first pages of her memoir wasn't really awkwardness, rather an honesty with her own brokenness that is rarely expressed so openly by religious leaders, even less so in print.
Her book is the humble story of how she heard Jesus say to her “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” and left her previous life and followed him (Matt 4:19-20) - giving us the good news and the bad news in equal measure. There are no luminous epiphanies, no hard-won flashes of insight, no succession of challenges overcome - only the vivid story of a how she and the people of St. Lydia's learned that with God "that there is never enough, but always enough" (83). From this, then, the both her life and the lives of her colleagues give solid testimony to how God provided them "all sufficiency in all things at all times" so that they could "abound in every good work" for the sake of their neighbor (1 Cor. 9:8).
And more than any other book of its kind that I've read, Pastor Scott demonstrates in living color what it means to minister from one's own brokenness - to be honest with your limitations, even you sinfulness, in such a way that it becomes impossible to forget how much you need others, and in turn how much they need you.
There is so much more I can gush about with For All Who Hunger, so honest and true and vulnerable it is, but let me end quickly on why I personally think you need to read it (and pre-order it).
I want people to read this book because it is a tangible example of how God works with everyone who hears the call and follows. After all, she started St. Lydia's as "some young, unordained woman who [thought] she could start a church" and then did it (43). Can you imagine what motivation this could give to lay leaders? On that note, aspiring church planters would do well to read this book too - especially because she demonstrates a fact so often neglected among church leadership and in seminary, that the vast majority of Churches in Lutheran history were founded by groups of dedicated laity, not pastors. And though she had advanced theological training, the book demonstrates that this is never the magic ingredient that forms a church - rather it is a sincere desire to share the love of God through food, good company, and taking care of mutual need. Pastor Emily story models this process so richly and explicitly that it is easy for those similarly moved to follow, to emulate.
And too, yes, people need to read this book because it is a truly heart-rending/warming read of, as Pastor Emily followed the call of the Spirit, how God will knit others to her and for her before she even met them - and how God will do that for all of us as well, providing healing, wisdom, love and belonging whenever and however it is needed. And in these days of fear and COVID-19, as the souls of our nation, communities, and our very beings struggle under every conceivable lack and longing, this book can give us firm reminder that God's abundance is never so far away - giving us just enough strength and hope to keep going another day and another day and another day.