From that very first line of the novel, the reader is warmly invited into the life of Moravian pastor Rev. James Wheeler, his wife Bonnie, and their sons Nathaniel and Philip. The story is set in fictional Talmage a small, picturesque community in eastern Pennsylvania. Through Wheeler’s voice, Taylor-Troutman paints a beautiful and honest picture of the pastor’s life, the tension between home life and church life, the holiness of the ordinary and the everyday gifts of grace.
Written in the form of a journal, this novel quickly draws one into the rhythm of the life of a pastor. Reading Rev. Wheeler’s daily journal entries allows the reader an intimate view of his thoughts. It is as if we are invited to overhear his most honest confession of his joys and his challenges, his hopes and his fears.
Throughout the story, Rev. Wheeler deals with some rather challenging situations both in the congregation and in his own family. Although many of the situations are ones that we all face in life, some have become ones that we are uncomfortable discussing in the Church. However, through the folksy style and caring voices with which his characters speak, Taylor-Troutman invites us all into a world where vulnerability and uncertainty are welcomed and embraced by the faith community. His characters display courage in dealing with the hard things in life and they, in turn, invite us to do the same.
Although Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of New Dublin Presbyterian Church in Dublin, Va., the seeds of Taylor-Troutman’s faith were sown in the Moravian Church. Growing up in the church as the son of a Moravian minister (the Rev. Craig Troutman, pastor of Raleigh Moravian Church in North Carolina) and the grandson of another (the Rev. Ray Troutman), his roots run deep in the soil of Moravian history and tradition. He likens his years of faith formation as the “clay” for this story; just as clay can be molded and reshaped, Taylor-Troutman molds and reshapes his early experiences in the Moravian Church into new stories with new characters.
Drawing upon his own knowledge and experience, Taylor-Troutman weaves factual information about Moravian history and tradition throughout his story. He includes this information in such a way that it not only provides background information for the reader but also serves as a backdrop for the lives and faith of his characters.
Each of the characters in Earning Innocence has a distinct voice and story of their own. All of the characters in this story are relatable, making it easy to find our own lives mirrored in the lives of the characters. Each is dealing with his or her own joys and challenges. Their lives are ordinary in the most extraordinary of ways, illustrating for us, the readers, that while life at times can be hard and messy it is also holy and upheld by the grace that is freely extended to us from God and through one another.
On the afternoon that I began reading Earning Innocence, I quickly discovered that I would not be doing anything else that afternoon other than reading this wonderful story. It is a quick read. Yet, I found myself trying to slow down toward the last few chapters because I did not want the story to end! I had the feeling throughout the story that I knew the people of Talmage Moravian Church and that I had walked the land where they live. Reading the final pages of this lovely book felt somewhat like I was saying goodbye to beloved friends.
Fortunately, Taylor-Troutman has plans to revisit the lives of these amazing characters in future novels. I look forward to reading more of this talented writer’s words.
Fran Saylor of Raleigh, N.C. is a recent graduate of Moravian Theological Seminary. Earning Innocence is available on Amazon or through Resource Publications: http://wipfandstock.com/imprint/resource-2
From the January/February 2016 Moravian Magazine