On Aug. 23, the Rev. Mark Dowell lost his personal library of books in a fire. He lost a lot of other things, too, including the building where he preached every Sunday and led his congregation into ministry.
But when clergy colleagues read how a fire had consumed the historic St. Elmo United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, some were most saddened by the loss of the pastor's books.
"In seminary we are encouraged to build friendships, the kind that last a lifetime, because the ministry can be a very lonely profession," said the Rev. Mat Merker, a Cleveland District pastor.
"A professional library is like having a lifelong friend who is always there. ... This man, whom I did not know, lost hundreds of friends, guides, and comforters, hidden in the pages of his beloved library," she said.
To replace some of Dowell's collection, Bishop James Swanson and District Superintendents Mike Travis and Fred Dearing have approved a "book shower," to be held during Ministers Convocation at Lake Junaluska, Feb. 2-5.
Cokesbury Bookstore of Lake Junaluska is offering 20 percent discounts on about 100 books that will be displayed on a special table. Examples include "The Wesley Study Bible," "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White," "United Methodist Book of Worship," and "Preaching the Atonement." (See list.)
The bookstore is located at Harrell Center on the Lake Junaluska Conference campus in North Carolina. Clergy are encouraged to visit there and select books to donate for Dowell.
In addition, a box will be available at Cokesbury, where used books may be donated.
"So many of Rev. Dowell's favorite books are older and no longer in print," said Merker. "If people are willling to part with an older classic in any condition, Mark will be very grateful." Examples include books by C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (See list.)
People who aren't attending Convocation but wish to participate in the shower may purchase a gift certificate by phone (828-456-8746) or donate a used book by mailing it to Dowell. (Rev. Mark Dowell, 4622 St. Elmo Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37409)
"A professional library is to a minister like a little black bag is to a doctor," Merker said.
See also: "St. Elmo rebuilds, moves on after fire" (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 12/25/09)