Chasing Francis—A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a novel with workbook and bibliography attached. The novel is not great art, but it is an engaging read. I read it in two sittings, unusual for me. I tend to read material like this at bedtime over a week or two. The premise of the novel is straightforward. Chase, an evangelical megachurch’s pastor/founder has a crisis of faith and comes unraveled in the pulpit. The Elders vote to give him time to get himself together.
With no wife and few friends outside the church, he has little to hold him at home. On impulse he calls up a distant relative, Uncle Kenny, born and raised Southern Baptist who converted to Roman Catholicism and is now a Franciscan priest in Italy. Uncle Kenny invites him to Italy. With little urging, he goes.
The teachings of St. Francis are gently introduced as he follows in the saint’s footsteps. The food and espresso coffee of Italy play a strong supporting role. He meets an interesting assortment of Franciscans and others carrying out St. Francis’ call/mission in a variety of ways, including two survivors of the genocide in Rwanda who are now engaged in reconciliation and peacemaking.
Chase is converted to a post-evangelical view of the church, working in the church and the world, following Francis’ and Jesus’ teachings. He returns to his church to present his new vision/mission for the church. It receives mixed reviews.
To say more would be a plot spoiler. The ending is open-ended and realistic. The miracles were small and back in Italy.
The appendices ask a number of pointed, open-ended questions about how Francis’ (and Jesus’) teachings square with the reader’s faith. Some are explicitly about the evangelical view of faith. I’m not in an evangelical church, so I had to ignore or reframe. Most apply to any Christian. For a non-Christian to read the book and struggle with the questions would require a lot of reframing.
The author is an Episcopalian priest, so the story is not self-serving of his institutional church.
The bibliography is heavy on Francis’ life and teachings. There are relevant non-Catholic sources, e.g., Walter Bruegemann’s Prophetic Imagination and Finally Comes the Poet. I’m reading the latter and find it relevant though it comes from a different direction to much the same conclusions.
I think this a good read for anyone, especially Christians, who have found that their religious institution no longer is enough.