Heavens to Betsy, by Beth Pattillo

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2010

TITLE: Heavens to Betsy
AUTHOR: Beth Pattillo

PAGES: 368
PUBLISHER: Waterbrook Press

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Inspirational
SERIES: There's a followup, Earth To Betsy.

REASON FOR READING: Random pick from my TBR when I was in Uruguay

Blessed Are the Fabulous.

Life would be perfect for Reverend Betsy Blessing if it weren't for parishioners who keel over during her sermons, steal money from the collection box, and set her up with ex-cons. Not to mention the very inconvenient feelings she is suddenly having for her long-time friend, fellow seminarian, and verbal sparring partner, David Swenson. It isn’t until Betsy is thrust into the position of senior minister for her church, however, that she discovers the real cause of her discontent: her fear of failing has become stronger than her faith in herself.

Is it really possible to keep a good woman down? Can Betsy reclaim her confidence while reconciling her clerical robe with high heels and the right shade of lipstick? A fun-loving look at a single girl’s life on the other side of the altar, Heavens to Betsy is also a hilarious and joyful celebration of strong, stylish, and faithful womanhood.
I've mentioned that for some strange reason, I read several books with priest protagonists while on holiday (there was the first two in Julia Spencer-Fleming's Rev. Claire Fergusson series, and also Mortal Sin, by Laurie Breton). Both very different books, and Heavens to Betsy is again completely different. I'd actually call it chick lit/inspirational! Betsy Blessing is a woman minister, and the book deals both with her difficulties getting a personal life and with the travails her congregation puts her through and her struggles to get taken seriously, which have consequences on her certainty about her vocation.

Betsy has recently become assistant pastor at her church, but even though she feels she's ready to do bigger work and become senior pastor, a post which is vacant at the moment, her congregation don't seem to even consider the possibility, and plan to recruit from outside. This has left Betsy feeling very discouraged, and she's got to the point where she's seriously considering whether being a pastor is really the best way for her to serve God. Not to mention that Betsy is at the point where she'd like to form a family, and mentioning her job to any man is a really good way of sending him running in the opposite direction.

I know absolutely nothing about church politics and how that sort of thing works, so seeing Betsy's struggles to build what can only be called a career in that context was completely new to me and captured my interest fully. I was especially interested to see how much the congregation determined the choice of the character of the pastor who preached to them. I was brought up as a Catholic, and that was much more hierarchical. You got the priest the people above decided you should have, and if you didn't like the message, felt he was being too conservative or too liberal for your tastes, then tough.

Betsy's struggles with her congregation were well done. They're very funny at times, but there is still quite a lot of depth, which the fun doesn't mask. These people are fully human, no evil caricatures, just people with prejudices and set ideas, who can behave very badly at times but who also have their problems and vulnerabilities. This meant that although at times I got extremely annoyed with Betsy's doormat instincts, and wished for a bit more revenge over her tormentors, I felt almost ashamed of those wishes at the end. I think Pattillo succeeded in showing the humanity and patheticness of these horrible people so that, as Betsy, I felt sorry for them rather than anything else.

There's a romance here, but it's a very low key one, which I didn't particularly enjoy. It's not bad, it's just blah. No chemistry whatsoever (and no, I'm not asking for torrid sex, just for a bit of zing in the characters' interactions). Betsy and her friend David came across as the really good friends they clearly were, but nothing else. (PS - I got really distracted by David's name. He's called David Swenson, and I kept thinking "I've got his DVD!"

Anyway, this was a good read, and one I'd recommend to people who don't get inspirationals (I promise, no preaching here).



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