In the opening chapter of POTTER SPRINGS, Mark Reynolds has all the trappings of success. As the young associate pastor of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Houston, Texas with a megachurch congregation, Mark is the designated successor. The senior pastor, James Montclair, glows with praise when he talks with Mark. Yet in the early pages of the book, Mark meets Amanda Thompson and falls in love. The couple has a lot of passion in their relationship, and Amanda learns she is pregnant. As a Christian in ministry, Mark knows he's thrown a bit and they need to get married --- but he has no idea how much.
As James said to his associate, "It's not what I expected of you. At all." The anger rose in degrees.
Mark took it like a tackle, impassive.
"I'll have to talk to the board," James flipped open his calendar.
"Would you?" Hope descended like the dove in the painting, breaking through the clouds of gray with specks of holy light. Mark spoke in a rush. "I'll go before them, tell them what happened, and that we're getting married. Before the church if I have to, like a testimony, tell them how even people in leadership, in the church, can make mistakes and that we're not perfect, just forgiven-"
"Mark," James said, gentle and sad, "It's over."
"Over?" The specks disappeared, the shadows covered the flight, as if it never happened. Turning what had been hope to an overwhelming gray.
"We have to let you go. Surely you can see that. Being on staff here --- doing what you've been doing --- we can't keep you on."
Mark comes face to face with the stark reality about some of the unspoken rules of the modern-day church. The senior pastor may talk about forgiveness from the pulpit. Yet how is this forgiveness practically administered when someone on the church staff falls into sexual sin --- even if they are going to get married? Mark is forced to immediately resign.
After the sudden loss of his job, Mark considers a career change and staying in Houston, which would be near both of their families. Yet this choice doesn't match Mark's training and long-term life plans.
When James Montclair gives Mark a lead on a possible job in the Texas Panhandle, he follows the opportunity. A former football coach turned pastor, Ervin Plumley needs an associate pastor at Lakeview Community Church in Potter Springs, Texas. Plumley offers Mark the job, so the young couple moves away from their families to make a new life and serve this small congregation. Through many twists and turns, they learn to deal with failure and find their place of service in the world.
Ultimately the amount of life changes becomes overwhelming for Amanda. She takes matters into her own hands and flees to Mexico in search of her own identity and soul. Mark chases after her and together they learn valuable lessons about the reality of faith in life.
For a first novel, Britta Coleman writes with gritty realism and characters facing true drama. For example, Mark faces his feelings of the sexual temptation from Courtney Williams, the attractive and active single member of his congregation. And Amanda struggles to find her place in the church community --- even if she doesn't have much of a faith relationship. Readers will appreciate how Coleman weaves a world with rich characterization and a page-turning plot. They will pull for the couple and tug on their own heartstrings as they turn pages and see how Mark and Amanda handle the challenges of life.
As a long-time reader of fiction, I was impressed with the fresh storytelling and vivid words from this new novelist. I recommend this novel and will be watching for Britta Coleman's next work. The lessons from the lives of Coleman's characters will provide some moving insight about what it means to follow Jesus in today's world.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on June 16, 2005