Life goes on in this 6th book about the little Quaker Friends congregation in the town of Harmony. Sam has been the pastor for half a dozen years now, and he and his wife Barbara are in a comfortable routine. But as often happens, comfort is replaced with rotten tomatoes.
Sam’s father has a heart attack, followed by another heart attack. The Friends decide to give Sam three months off – with pay – to help take care of his father as he recovers. The church requests an interim pastor, and are sent a female! It’s Krista Riley’s first assignment, but she’s dreamed of being a minister since childhood and throws herself wholeheartedly into the job. The congregation absolutely falls in love with her, and Sam begins to wonder if they’ll want him back after his father is recovered.
Krista is on cloud nine – until the day that a church member sees her in a restaurant with a close friend, and mistakenly concludes that their temporary pastor is a lesbian. Rumors circulate throughout the church, and the entire congregation is in an uproar about what to do with Krista.
The author has his usual mix of humor and serious thought in this book. The subjects of homosexuality in the church, gossip, privacy versus the right of the congregation to know, evangelistic tactics to avoid, and jealousy are all brought up in “Almost Friends”. This novel will definitely give the reader many things to think about.
The story that began with “Home To Harmony” continues on in “Just Shy Of Harmony”. The first book was the feel-good one, the one that made you want to live in the quaint little town of Harmony. But the second book has a decidedly different feel about it. Life is not so rosy. Pastor Sam is underpaid, overworked, tired of tending to the problems of everyone, and is beginning to question if there is a God. During Sam’s spiritual crisis, other members of the congregation take over the Sunday morning preaching.
But Sam’s not the only having troubles. There’s Dale Hinshaw, who is trying to get his scripture-chicken-egg evangelism program off the ground. Jessie Peacock, through no effort of her own, has won millions of dollars in the lottery, but wants to refuse the money. Wayne Fleming is struggling to raise his kids after his wife Sally runs off, but is shocked when she returns and wants to just go back to normal.
Mixed in with the problems of the church folk are the heartwarming parts of the book, like when one of the women at church took Wayne’s children under her wing. Also very touching was when the women’s group from church took over the hospital kitchen to make homemade noodle and chicken for a woman who was a patient there. (That didn’t seem like something the health department would allow in real life, but hey, this is fiction.) And I loved that the church members were willing to anoint Sally with oil and lay hands on her in prayer, even though their church had never done that before.
Overall, I enjoyed this Philip Gulley novel just as much as the first one!
Welcome to the little town of Harmony! Sam Gardner grew up there, went away to college, and is now returning (with wife and kids) to be the pastor of the small Quaker church congregation. He’s getting re-acquainted with many of the people he knew as a child, and meeting new folks.
This book has a similar feel to the “Mitford” books written by Jan Karon, although the male characters are more dominant in this book. My favorite character – beside Sam of course – was Sam’s ancient male secretary, who didn’t always see so well but had a real heart for encouraging people around him. Reading about Harmony made me wish the town really existed so that I could visit it.
Excerpt from the first page:
“I liked living where I did, in Harmony. I liked that the Dairy Queen sold ice cream cones for a dime. I liked that I could ride my Schwinn Typhoon there without crossing Main Street, which my mother didn’t allow.
I liked that I lived four blocks from the Kroger grocery store, where every spring they stacked bags of peat moss out front. My brother and I would climb on the bags and vault from stack to stack. Once, on a particularly high leap, my brother hit the K in KROGER with his head, causing the neon tube to shatter. For the next year, the sign flashed ROGER, which we considered an amazing coincidence since that was my brother’s name. He liked to pass by at night and see his name in lights.”