On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he's forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man's daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he's haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind--a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.
For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the parson is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna's outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?
I was drawn to Crockett's character in Short-Straw Bride and was delighted to find him featured in this novel. Crockett Archer is a man committed to following God’s call on his life, yet his patience and his faith are put to the test when one obstacle after another are thrown into his path. And he is such a well-rounded character! Patient, respectful, gentle of spirit, with a gift for drawing people out or putting them at ease. He preaches with a passion that people respond to and lives out his message during the week.
Joanna is a delightful character, the perfect heroine, a kindred spirit in that she shares Crockett's values and call to ministry. But the story really hinges on Joanna's father, Silas - a retired outlaw, one who despises “sermonizers” and their hypocritical ways. In one scene, "a burning need flared to life in Silas's gut - a need to understand . . . what compelled a rancher who co-owned a family spread to work for another man just so he could preach in a small country church in the middle of nowhere." Silas is a strong, appealing character, one that touched me.
One of the book's strengths for me is the strong theme of redemption that is woven throughout this story, as well as bringing life to a church that needed a preacher and uniting a community of believers. Crockett's words to the congregation that first Sunday paint a beautiful picture of Christ's church: "We don't simply meet together in this building because it is a convenient place to worship. We meet in order to rejoice together and mourn together. To uplift and encourage one another. To gain strength from the strong and humility from the weak. To experience the artistry of the Master Weaver who brings all of our individual gifts together to create a tapestry more beautiful than any one person can achieve alone. A tapestry that proclaims God's glory to every eye that beholds it. A tapestry that is incomplete without you."
The redemptive theme of God's pursuit comes to a moving conclusion and I loved Karen's use of hymn singing. Songs like Shall We Gather at the River and Nothing But the Blood will surely evoke sweet memories for many readers.
I highly recommend Stealing the Preacher and believe it will appeal to a wider audience than historical romance fans. Although this story stands alone, I recommend reading Short-Straw Bride first in order to gain a better sense of the characters.
Karen's next project is a novella that features Neill Archer, the final brother in the Archer clan. Neill's story, A Cowboy Unmatched, will be part of a collection entitled A Match Made in Texas. It releases January 2014 and also includes novellas by Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Carol Cox.
In Karen's words . . .
What do I hope readers will take away from Stealing the Preacher? In order to truly fulfill God's calling on our lives, we must be willing to surrender our assumptions and rationalizations about what we think that calling entails to follow him in the direction he actually leads, even if that guidance takes us in a different direction than we expect. A secondary theme emphasizes the need to never grow weary of scattering spiritual seed, for God will never give up pursuing any individual soul.
Learn more about Karen and her books at karenwitemeyer.com.
This book was provided by Bethany House as part of their bloggers program in exchange for my honest review.