Chaplains who encounter those on church margins would find book valuable
By John Gillman, PhD
Let Your Voice Be Heard: Conversations on the Margin of the Church. By Joan Hebert Reisinger. Pickwick Publications, Eugene, OR, 2012. Paperback, 208 pp. $25.
Just one day before Pope Benedict XVI made his momentous announcement about resigning from the chair of Peter, I received a copy of Joan Reisinger’s book, the title of which surely echoes the sentiments of many in their hope that the new pope will be open to listening to the diversity of voices in the church, especially those on the margin. The result of her doctoral dissertation from the University of St. Thomas in Miami, FL, this study invites us to listen attentively to the lived experience of 50 people from the Catholic community who reflect on the challenges to live out their faith in an environment that too often does not foster open dialogue. Most of those interviewed still identify as Catholic, many belong to intentional faith communities, and all long to have their voices heard.
The dialogue partners interviewed by the author represent a cross-section of the faithful, lay, religious and ordained, from nine states across the country. Ms. Reisinger, a member of an intentional eucharistic community, engaged each person interviewed in one-hour conversations following a dialogue protocol (Appendix B). What they share in common is living on the margins. Not unlike Jesus, the Marginal Jew (the title of John Meier’s multivolume magisterial work on Jesus), these individuals live in the creative in-between space, often straddling both the center and the margin.
In the first chapter, Ms. Reisinger sketches the contours of the phenomenological approach to her research, and then develops a theology of marginality, drawing on the work of Korean-American theologian Jung Young Lee (Ch. 2). In subsequent chapters she lays out a Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology that is relational and dialogical, discusses models of the church from the perspective of marginality, and articulates a practical theology that privileges the voice of the other.
Regardless of our clinical setting or ministerial context, I suspect that many us spend much of our time listening to and journeying with those who live on the margins of the current culture of the institutional church, yet still within the center of the church understood as the People of God. As we read these pages, a plethora of our one-to-one pastoral care experiences will undoubtedly come to mind.
I believe that members of spiritual care departments and pastoral teams in parishes and other settings will benefit greatly from discussing this book. For those who want to read more widely in the areas of practical theology, there is an extensive 20-page biography. My only wish is that the author would have included more about her own personal context and narrative out of which she undertook this project.
John Gillman is an NACC and ACPE supervisor at The VITAS Urban CPE Program of Southern California in San Diego.