by Harold Eppley
Waverly, Tennessee: Oconee Spirit Press, 2012, 260 pages
Harold Eppley, a 1988 graduate of Wartburg Seminary has published seven non-fiction books, but this is his first novel. “Ash Wednesday” is the story of two pastors whose lives intersect in some very interesting ways. Both are struggling, but for very different reasons. Pastor Gerald Schwartz struggles with losing his wife to another woman, while trying to pacify a small church full of bickering people and still maintain his sense of liturgical correctness. Pastor Allan Weiss seems to have it all: a mega-church that affords him a luxurious lifestyle, a wife, children, and parishioners who adore him. Unfortunately, Pastor Weiss takes the adornment by some of his parishioners a bit too far, especially those who are young and attractive. In other words, he has no boundaries and, as long as his wife doesn’t find out, he is willing to have as many affairs as he can fit in to his busy schedule.
Although Schwartz and Weiss do not agree on many things, they are colleagues and when you live in a rural area, colleagues are not in great supply. They meet on a regular basis because the bishop mandated that each pastor in the district partner for a weekly meeting with a pastor whose approach to theology and ministry was different than theirs. This was a perfect match for those reasons.
At first, I was not sure I liked the portrayal of a pastor who jumped into bed with any attractive female who was willing or could be persuaded to have a sexual relationship with him. It was not the image of a pastor I want people to read about. That being said, I found Eppley’s writing sharp and page-turning. It was hard to put down. The book is full of satire and pathos. There are many sexual references in the book. It is definitely a book for adults only. What I found I enjoyed most about the book was Eppley’s way of intertwining the many colorful characters. He artfully captures the essence of each person and makes them come alive. I liked the ending. It was not what I expected, but it brought the book to a fitting conclusion for me.