Letters to Nancy, by Mahan Siler

Reviewed by Leah Grundset Davis 

Last year, the church where I serve celebrated our 60th anniversary. Ravensworth Baptist Church selected “Moving Forward in Hope” as our theme and we ran with it. We invited Mahan Siler to be our anniversary preacher for the weekend.  

As his voice traveled through the sanctuary that morning, preaching about the river of justice, in which we all wade as followers of Jesus, I tried to snapshot the moment in my mind. It sounded like a wisdom-filled letter to a beloved church.  

And it was. Mahan was pastor at Ravensworth in the 1960s, leading conversations around justice and engaging with the systems of the day right outside the nation’s capital. He drew on the depth of that as he addressed his beloved friends—ones he had baptized, married, served alongside, even though we all found ourselves decades later in a reframe that mattered. We had indeed, moved forward in hope.  

That’s what Letters to Nancy is all about. We get to read letters and ideas about church and pastoring from someone who has lived it, dreamed it, and reflected on it from decades of ministry. Mahan’s pastoral voice leaps off every page as he considers the reframes that matter in the life of pastor and church and world.  

For those of us who are part of the Alliance of Baptists, Mahan is one of our founders who as fellow founder Walker Knight would say “pressed ahead on principle.” His letters with Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, N.C., are so conversational you can imagine yourself around a table (pre-social distancing) enjoying a cup of coffee.  

The blurb for the book states, “We’re listening here to the voice of an engaged and still-growing elder as he talks with us about what it means to be a congregational leader and about how to serve faithfully and sustainably in that role. He understands that being a congregational leader is far more than a job; it is a way among other ways of becoming more fully who we are…”  

Mahan invites us to become more fully who we are as we continue in that river of justice. Pick up Letters to Nancy and receive it as the gift it was created to be.  

Leah Grundset Davis is pastor of Ravensworth Baptist Church, Annandale, Virginia. Leah’s Doctor of Ministry project, Believe the Women: A Journey of Liberation with Alliance of Baptists’ Women, was published by the Alliance of Baptists in 2019. 

Purchase Letters to Nancy in the Alliance online bookstore here.

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