At heart, every good pastor is a storyteller, but the Rev. William Boyer is probably better than most. Since retiring seven years ago, he has published Wednesday Night Services, the first in a series of mystery novels exclusively available as e-books for the Kindle and the Nook. He’s written a second novel and is working on a third.
While the series is strictly a work of fiction, Mr. Boyer’s reluctant clergy gumshoe is the Rev. Hugh Derrick, who serves as the leader of a small flock at St. Matthew’s UMC in Olney. The book begins with Derrick at the Communion rail and a favorite parishioner confessing that she fears someone is trying to kill her.
The life of the parish unfolds amid finance committee meetings, midweek Bible study and Sunday worship bulletin preparation, but the pastor’s routine is shattered by murder.
According to the book’s promotional materials, “Middle-aged Reverend Hugh Derrick is at ease in his rigid beliefs and already looking forward to retirement,” when events draw him into investigating a mystery and uncovering a 40-year-old secret.
In spite of himself, Derrick is drawn into seeing justice done, “and along the way finds himself examining the very underpinnings of his faith.”
“It’s a good story. I wanted to write something that was a good read, so that people would want to read the next page,” said Mr. Boyer, an avid fan of mystery books, particularly those by British writers like P.D. James, Elizabeth George and Susan Hill.
He also appreciates Jan Karon’s Mitford series, but confesses that he often finds Father Timothy Kavanagh, the book’s hero, “a little bit of a wimp.” In the Mitford books, Father Tim will find a lost dog or help reconnect a parishioner with her father. As a former chaplain for the Maryland State Police, Mr. Boyer knows that the life a pastor leads is more serious, gritty and full of life-changing challenges.
He also saw the book as an opportunity to dispel people’s quaint ideas of life inside the church sanctuary and illuminate some of the complex feelings and realities with which people of faith struggle.
“To love and be loved by a congregation is a wonderful thing,” he said. “In a way, it’s a very exciting life, but on a small scale. You get to live with a congregation with all their ambiguities and conflicts. It’s an honor to be a part of their stories.”
While Mr. Boyer takes care to make the church and its ministries reflect real life, he can’t help but sprinkle theological observations and share glimpses of God’s love throughout the pages. In the book, writing about a lesson plan Derrick is preparing for his “Seekers Group,” the author unfolds some of his own thoughts on sin and salvation. Mr. Boyer says he almost couldn’t help himself from reflecting on the simple beauty and grace present in the celebration of Communion.
Mr. Boyer also had a little fun dropping names of people he’s worked with over the years on unlikely characters. In one scene, a “Mark Derby” shows up as a reporter for the Washington Post. Another Mark Derby once served as Mr. Boyer’s district superintendent. But none of the characters or situations in the book reflect actual people or events, the author promised. Names were used as a fleeting homage. However, one instance in which this might not be the case, is with Derrick’s wife, a supportive and caring clergy spouse who serves in ministry to and with her husband.
Mr. Boyer and his wife Mary share a similar partnership. About a decade ago, Mary experienced cardiac arrest, which has left her with some memory loss and other issues. “At one point, I actually died,” she said.
That experience has brought the couple closer than ever and they are cherishing their time together in retirement in Westminster, where they attend Sandy Mount UMC.
Writing in the mornings and “catch as catch can,” Mr. Boyer has finished a draft of his second Hugh Derrick novel, “Stork Bite,” and is working on a third that is taking on an international flavor, he said.
While his retirement affords him a second career as an author, Mr. Boyer said he will never really stop being a pastor.
“How’s the old song go? ‘Tell me the stories of Jesus.’ That’s what ministers should be doing. Give people Jesus and then tell them the implications for their lives,” he said.
And so that’s what Mr. Boyer will continue to do. Except that every once in a while, a gunshot might ring out, a scream might echo in a church basement, or a mystery could unfold that needs the special gifts and insights of a United Methodist pastor, and he’ll be there to write it all down.
Ms. Lauber is the editor of UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.