Tupelo Reads hosts pastor roundtable to discuss ‘Gilead’

By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Early in the novel “Gilead,” pastor-narrator John Ames observes how people change their conversation when the pastor walks by, but then come into his office and tell him the most remarkable things.
Three Tupelo pastors who assembled Tuesday to discuss the novel as part of the Tupelo Reads event could all identify with Ames’ observation.
“There is a dynamic where people turn to you for certain things, but they don’t want to engage too much,” said the Rev. Bryan Collier of The Orchard.
The Rev. David Eldridge of Calvary Baptist Church recalled a tubing trip down the Ocoee River when he and a friend were grouped with a raucous bachelor party of tubers.
“I asked my friend, ‘Please don’t tell them I’m a preacher,’ and when we told them at the end that became the most pious group of tubers you’ve ever seen,” he said, laughing. “Our calling can be an entry way to people’s dreams and fears, but a barrier to real humanity.”
Collier, Eldridge and the Rev. Tom Groome of First Presbyterian Church held a roundtable discussion at the Lee County Library on “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson, this year’s book of choice in the second annual Tupelo Reads.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the story of Ames, a third-generation Congregationalist pastor in the small Iowa town of Gilead in the mid-1950s. Well into his 70s, Ames is in poor health and won’t be around to watch his young son grow up, so he writes a memoir relating events past and present and meditating on scripture and the nature of his calling.
“What better way to connect ‘Gilead’ with the community than through some of Tupelo’s most esteemed pastors,” said Lisa Reed, who spearheaded the program with the Mayor’s Task Force on Education.
Throughout the novel, Ames struggles to reconcile his flawed humanity with the demands and expectations of his position.
“We try to live up to our sermons,” said Groome, “but even as spiritual leaders, we are still human. Just ask our wives.”
“I try to make my sermons about what God has to say, not what Bryan has to say,” said Collier, “Even though we’re preaching it, we’re also hearing it ourselves.”
In the novel, Ames’ best friend is the minister of the local Presbyterian church. Likewise, Groome said he enjoys the rapport among Tupelo’s communities of faith.
“Our ministry crosses denominational lines,” Groome said. “It’s part of loving the people that you serve.”
The next and final event of Tupelo Reads 2012 will be a dramatic reading of segments from “Gilead” by St. Luke United Methodist Church pastor Rick Brooks. He will perform his reading at the Kiwanis Club meeting at noon Oct.12 at The Summit.
riley.manning@journalinc.com