Brief Book Review: Faith of Our Mothers, Living Still

Faith of Our Mothers, Living Still by Abigail Rian Evans and Katharine Door Skaenfeld

Who’s it for? Women and men who are searching to expand and diversify their understanding of Christ’s call to serve the world, those who currently hold the reigns of power in the church and seminary, and those who want or need to hear more stories of service from a women’s perspective.   

What’s the main point? Bringing awareness of the diversity of gifts and variety of ministries in which women have been engaged for centuries and offering a vision of the beginnings of a more inclusive non-hierarchical understanding of authority and of being church. 

Why does it matter? Since its beginnings, the church’s, stories, myths, theology, ecclesiology, seminaries, authority, and ministry has been defined, described legislated and controlled by men who represent less than one half humanity. This hierarchical model has excluded, shunned, abused, and denied the diversity of humanity from full participation in Christ’s ministry to the world as well as those to whom are ministered. This book is a call for a new beginning and a new vision of what it means to be the baptized and to minister to others. 

Why is this book significant? With their statement that ministry is the work of all baptized Christians as the basis of their purpose statement the authors rightly call us to reflect on a much broader understanding of ministry than is currently practiced.  If we are going to call all of the male hierarchal structures into question we must move away from a clerically based ecclesiology back to a baptismal based ecclesiology.  When baptism takes on more significance than ordination then we have started to move in the right direction. Baptism, the great equalizer after which there are no longer male or female distinctions, gives us a shared leadership, a shared authority, and most importantly a shared ministry. 

What intrigued me the most? I was most definitely caught up in the contradictions between what is current practice, who has assumed authority, and what the potential is if we recover baptism as “ordination” to ministry, a ministry in which we all share that pushes us all out of the church into service to the world. The hymn text and tune “Faith of Our Mothers, Living Still” by Mary Louise Bringle and Sally Ann Morris must be read and sung as part of the experience of this book.  

Kudos Thank you for a stimulating thought-provoking book.  

Hopes I would encourage the authors to explore some of the ambiguity expressed with hierarchal principles found in phrases like “from pew to pulpit”, equating ordination with leadership, the seminary’s role in perpetuating hierarchical forms of being church and avoiding formation for ministry, the relationship between baptism and ordination and ministry to the world, and the use of “call” to support hierarchical structures and authority.  

Abigail Rian Evans and Katharine Door Skaenfeld, Faith of Our Mothers, Living Still. Westminster John Know Press, 2017. 307 pages. 

REVIEWER: ALAN BARTHEL

Alan Barthel served as The St. Andrew’s Professor of Church Music at Emmanuel College in Toronto, Executive Director of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, and past President of The North American Academy of Liturgy. Alan is the author of numerous articles on Liturgical Music, Liturgy, Baptism/Confirmation, Justice, and Equality. 


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