The only disappointment readers will have with Philip Gulley's ALMOST FRIENDS is that it completes the Harmony series. Say it isn't so! This last installment stays true to the previous books --- chock full of dry wit and the small-town foibles of churchgoers, and permeated throughout with Gulley's own theology, which he co-writes about in his nonfiction books (IF GRACE IS TRUE and IF GOD IS LOVE).
Reader caveat: If you haven't read the Harmony series before, stop here and begin with book one, HOME TO HARMONY. This sixth full-length novel in the series (there are also some short novellas, including THE CHRISTMAS SCRAPBOOK) will be much more enjoyable if you've read the first.
Quaker pastor Sam Gardner is entering his sixth year at Harmony Friends Meeting in the small town of Harmony, Indiana, and he's ready for a sabbatical. "Sam was genuinely fond of the lost. It was the folks who were found who taxed his patience." The irrepressible Dale Hinshaw is a perennial burr in the saddle for Sam, this time as Chief Evangelist at Harmony Friends Meeting, "unleashing a series of events not even the most clairvoyant among them could have anticipated, trials that would test Sam to the core and find him sadly lacking." Dale, Gulley reminds us, once erected signs throughout Harmony in the Burma Shave tradition: "Go to church and learn to pray, Or when you die, there's hell to pay." Now, Dale's new "scripture greetings" recorded telephone messages are programmed to wake up townfolks in the middle of the night, inciting a near-riot in Harmony that Sam has to negotiate.
When Sam's father has a heart attack, Sam petitions for three months off to care for him. A new female pastor, Krista Riley, takes the church while he's gone and works her way into the hearts of the congregation. This provides Gulley an opening to look at the issues of gender and ordination. Through flashback chapters, we learn that Krista has grown up in the Catholic Church and once longed to be a priest. (Her parents had encouraged her that she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up, but as Gulley says, they hadn't counted on this). Krista discove