This summer, I applied for a Doctor of Ministry program at Virginia Seminary. It is a low residency doctoral program (3-4 weeks per year in residence for three years, plus assignments from home) that integrates theory and the practice of ministry in your parish. It is not designed for you to go teach in an educational institution, but to serve better as a priest in your parish.
One of the pieces of the applications was "a list of five books recently read and a brief explanation of how each has contributed to the practice of ministry." As a father of young children, when I saw the assignment, my first thought was "Well, I read Goodnight Moon last night." The more I thought about it though, children's books can be quite profound, and a lot of the stories I read to my children do actually contribute to my practice of ministry. I have even been known to include them in my sermons, so I went ahead and put together a second list of the children's books that contribute to my ministry.
1. Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. A witch and her cat keep picking up new animals to join them on the broom: a dog, a bird, a frog. Inviting in these newcomers seems like a mistake when the broom snaps in two, but ultimately, all of those extra friends help out in the end by saving the witch from being a dragon's dinner. This book reminds me that we can do more together than apart, and that although we may need to adjust when welcoming new folks in (they have to make a new broom in the end), the gifts they bring are invaluable. There is room in the pew as well as on the broom.
2. All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant. A day in the life of a child and the family chicken from sunrise to sunset. All of life is held in a day. This book reminds me to be present to this moment. It is the one we have. Live it well; minster in this moment.
3. What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig by Emma Virjan. "What this story needs is a pig. In a wig. On a boat..." As the story goes along, the boat ends up too full. The pig kicks everyone off the boat to solve the problem, but soon discovers that she is lonely. "What this story really needs is... a bigger boat." This story reminds me in my ministry to use my imagination when confronting challenges and look for multiple, creative solutions to problems.
4. The Greatest Treasure by Demi. This is a story of what is important in life. Two families, one with money, one without. One happy, one grumpy. The poor one may not have material wealth, but he is rich in joy by making music and making his family happy by sharing that music. This book reminds me to appreciate what I have and to recognize that the grass isn't always greener. In ministry, it reminds me to be grateful for the community I serve and the gifts it has, instead of longing for something else.
5. Clown of God by Tomie dePaola. In this classic medieval folktale, a poor, young boy has nothing in life, except the gift of juggling. He becomes a famous juggler, traveling the country. At the end of his life, as the people have tired of him and his skills are in decline and he is again poor, he finds himself on Christmas Eve in a church. The people have lined up giving presents to Jesus, represented in a rather grumpy looking statue of him as a child sitting on his mother Mary's lap. The old man laments that he has no gift to give. After everyone has left, he remembers that he has the gift of juggling. He puts on his clown make-up and juggles for the child. At the end of his act, he dies of a heart attack, but the golden ball falls into the hands of the child who is now smiling. This book reminds me that everyone has gifts to offer. My ministry as priest is to help people recognize and offer those gifts in service to Jesus.
What are your favorite children's books? How might they inform your life and ministry? Bingham+