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“Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy & the Search for Fabulous Heels”: Review -Wendy Dackson

Where God hides holiness2

This is the debut book by the co-authors of the blog ‘Dirty, Sexy Ministry ’—and fabulous heels really do not feature at all. If you are looking for fashion advice or insights for ministers of religion, you’re better off with Beauty Tips for Ministers , where the author attempts a combination of theological insight with snarky, appearance-based judgmentalism worthy of Ugly Betty.

Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel are two (US) southern women ordained to the priesthood of the universal church under the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church (USA). In Where God Hides Holiness, each woman tells the story of her own heartbreak, occasioned by human relationships in all their complexity, but more tellingly, how the Church they serve was in some ways the worst heartbreaker of all.

‘We are beautiful messes, we two women. On a good day.’ These are the first words of the book’s introduction. Each woman, in turn, tells how she became a ‘beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) mess’ as she first attempted the corporate-ladder climbing of a career path in the Episcopal Church. Trying to be ‘perfect’ priests, especially as each was the sole woman on the staff of a church with multiple priests, and coping with being a modern woman (relationships, divorce, miscarriage, attempts at adoption, both failed and successful), each author has written approximately half the book and told her story of heartbreak in the service of the church. They both do this colloquially, eloquently, poignantly, and often shockingly. They tell of being diminished as women by having to play the role of ‘sassy girl priest’ even when it felt inauthentic to their truest selves, enduring sexual innuendoes from male priests while needing to maintain the faҫade of being ‘friends’ with their harrassers, having their competence questioned for no apparent reason, and (in an incident I found personally upsetting) being slapped by the rector of the parish. This is the story of how each of these women managed to keep their love of God and to feel safe in the presence of Jesus, even when the church that is supposed to be the Body of Christ was failing and abusing them. Moreover, it is the story of how they both found joy in their ministries when the odds were stacked against them.

Where God Hides Holiness is not a perfect book. The women claim to be best friends (and their blog would confirm that claim), but Mary figures far more prominently in Laurie’s narrative than is true of the reverse. I personally would have found more satisfaction if I had heard of the advice and support Laurie had given Mary during her divorce and the adoption of the child that Mary so desperately wanted, as well as the path to finding a new call. Laurie’s narrative includes far more of the friendship, and this gives an unbalanced feel. The book might have benefited from an afterword or a concluding chapter co-authored by the women; this omission leaves the reader with the feeling that the book stops, rather than finishes.

But the honesty, courage, and hope evidenced in the writing are positive attributes that far outweigh any criticisms. Although the book is by and about two female priests, it speaks to anyone whose heart has been broken by the church, especially anyone (lay or ordained) who has attempted to give the best of their talents and energies to the church and had them rejected, ridiculed or abused. It is a starting point of encouragement for people to find their own voices and name their own situations, which may be very different from those of Laurie Brock and Mary Koppel. That alone makes it worth reading.

Wendy Dackson

 By Laurie M. Brock and Mary E. Koppel. New York: Morehouse, 2012. 185 pp. $19.00 (paperback)

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