Stories and Structures
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After serving as a missionary in West Africa early in his career, with a training in comparative religion and especially Islamic studies, James Hopewell became interested in the nature of the local Christian congregation, its dilemmas and its strengths. He read widely on the subject, but the literature did not satisfy him, so he spent a sabbatical year in two local churches, like an anthropologist in a primitive village. As time went on he arrived at the brilliant insight which forms the heart of this book: church congregations can only be understood on the basis of the storiesmembers tell of themselves and their community as they struggle for survival and meaning. Or, to put it more technically, congregational culture is a coherent system the structural logic of which is narrative. It is when one understands the story of a congregation one can see why some changes are accepted by it, some are not; why it is strong in some areas and weak in others. Only if that basis has been discovered is it possible really to work with a local church. James Hopewell's book also contains much valuable information about how to analyse congregations. James Hopewell did not live to finish his book; he died of cancer in 1984. His own story, of coping with that cancer, is bravely and movingly woven into the stories of congregations. The result is one of the seminal books of the decade. James Hopewell was Professor of Religion and the Church at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His book was posthumously edited by Barbara Wheeler, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, New York. With a Foreword by John Bowden.