Funk on Faith

Charlotte pastor pens novel set in N.C.-based Presbyterian church

The Rev. Matt Brown at his church, South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church.
The Rev. Matt Brown at his church, South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church. COURTESY OF MATT BROWN

People like Pastor Matt Brown’s well-crafted sermons so much they’ve told him he ought to write a book.

So he did. But “Parish” is not another how-to religion tome. It’s a novel – his first.

“I knew the (world) didn’t need another book on ‘The Seven Steps to Being a Mediocre Pastor,’” said Brown, 54, who has led the 1,160 souls at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church for the last decade.

What the world could use, he decided, was a novel that portrayed a community of characters who are broken and then transformed by God’s grace and each other – just like the people in the Bible.

Most books that touch on religion, Brown said, either cast church people as fools and charlatans or as evangelicals who trumpet a Christianity that is “legalistic and exclusive.”

He wanted “Parish” to offer the kind of thoughtful faith narrative that’s too often crowded out of the marketplace: “I hope there would be a message of grace and an acknowledgment of how our lives gain meaning through relationships and not through power and achievement. In the end, life is how we treat one another.”

Set in fictional Edinburgh, N.C., the novel centers on “the sinners and saints” at St. Martin Presbyterian Church, including Pastor Elijah Lovejoy Parish.

That may sound sedate, but consider this bold stroke: The novel is narrated, from heaven, by Parish’s autistic brother, who dies in a car crash. On the opening page, we read:

“Tragic? Yes, particularly for my older brother who was driving when the teen queen heading toward us managed to slide the cassette into the player but failed to notice she was drifting to the wrong side, which happened to be our side, of the road.... My brother somehow survived with only bruises, but would live with the irrational guilt of feeling he had failed to protect me. How ironic, because my brother always protected me. (Now) he was fettered. I was free.”

The novel includes a redneck funeral that becomes a DEA sting. And one character’s wife leaves him for a State Farm Insurance salesman, precipitating a fist fight between the two men in a country club parking lot.

Some of the novel is set in Charlotte. And each chapter ends with a sermon by Parish, though Brown’s congregants may recognize them as some of his best from his pulpit.

Brown said writing “Parish” and getting it published (Wipf and Stock Publishers ) was hard work and a joy. And writing about these characters, who are not much different than members of his own church, was “spiritually enriching.”

“Digging a little deeper into the characters,” he said, “may make me more sensitive to the struggles of the people here.”

tfunk@charlotteobserver.com

Want to buy ‘Parish’?

The novel is available at a discount ($20) through the church (704-544-0404) or from Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and http://wipfandstock.com/parish.html.

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