Being a Pastor to a President

Date: November 4, 2022

You can pre-order this book on Amazon. And it is worth doing so. I was fortunate I received an advance copy. It is an astonishing, moving, powerful book. It is about a Rector caring for parishioners; it is about the Christian hope and the precious power of the Episcopal liturgy when confronting death and grief; and yes, it is about the faith of a President and his First Lady. The book is called Witness to Dignity: The Life and Faith of George H.W. and Barbara Bush by the Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr.

Russ Levenson is the Rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. It is the largest Episcopal Church in the country. And he counted among his parishioners from 2007 (when he arrived) until their death a remarkable couple – President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara.

The spotlight has been cast many times on anyone running for high political office. There are very few secrets that have not been shared with the world. Yet this is a book that truly invites us into a world that a secular press is not really interested in. This book captures a couple seeking to be faithful – seeking to be persons of prayer – seeking to be helpful members of a congregation. It is a book where their faith comes first and their remarkable status in American political life comes second. The handwritten notes that are reproduced between the President and his pastor – Russ – are moving and intimate. As one reads the book you feel as if the curtain is being pulled back on their very souls as a couple. It is deeply moving.

Every clergy person, alumni, and seminarian should buy this book. Russ is a great leader. Almost in passing, he explains how one witnesses to the Gospel by countless acts of thoughtfulness and kindness. He also explains how one can serve the famous – and yes even the famous have spiritual needs that need attention from their parish priest. He outlines the Christian Hope of the life to come right at the end of the book. It is a formative text for learning the craft of pastoral care.

Virginia Theological Seminary has a moment in the book. Barbara Bush accepted the Dean’s Cross from the Seminary. It was conferred on the First Lady at St. Martin’s in Houston. The back story of her acceptance and her sense of gratitude in receiving the honor is shared in the book.

For a busy priest to find the time to do the research and write such a compelling book is an astonishing achievement. As I put the book down, I was filled with gratitude and awe. This is an important project which has been well done. Countless readers will pick up the book simply because it is about George H.W. and Barbara Bush; and countless readers will put down the book having learned about the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. For all this, this reviewer is truly grateful.

The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D.
Dean and President

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