Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church (Eerdmans, 2017) by Winn Collier is like an Impressionistic word-painting of life in a small town and the distinct role a church plays within that culture. Since I’m married to a small-town pastor, the idea of this book intrigued me. Collier has a gentle prose style that teeters on the brink of poetry. He does a fantastic job capturing the ethos of ministry in a small-town church as only one can who has been there, done that, and he does it using the unique form of letter-narrative.
The book is set in the fictional town of Granby, USA. The Granby Presbyterian Church is weary of searching for a new pastor. Not one of the candidates they have interviewed so far is willing to consider a call to such an obscure place.
Jonas McAnn had served a church fourteen years before burning out and leaving the pastorate to sell insurance. But he feels a holy discontent knowing that God has not released him from the call to ministry. When Jonas receives a letter from Granby’s search committee asking, “Do you actually want to be our pastor?…Will you love us? And will you teach us to love one another?” the Holy Spirit speaks to him through their simple honesty. He’s never aspired to be a leadership coach or fundraising executive or strategist, which seems to be what other churches desire in a pastor. He wants to serve, and Granby Presbyterian seems like the one place he can do that. “Just bring us yourself, Jonas,” they tell him. “Whatever else pastors might do when they come to a new church, please just bring us yourself.” And so he does.
The rest of the book is a progression of letters Jonas writes to the church. Through these readers follow the joys and sorrows, faith and doubts and tensions that come along with doing life together. Early on Jonas reminds his flock, “I received the title pastor after a vote, but I will only actually become your pastor after years of laying sturdy stone upon sturdy stone. This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is work worthy of a life.” Exactly. Jonas closes each letter with a benediction that makes up the title: “Love big. Be well.”
I read the book in just a couple afternoons. Didn’t want put it down, actually. But I know I’ll go back and savor these letters and even a few specific lines again and again. I hope you will too. The book will be released on October 27 and is currently available for pre-order.