The Rev Hugh Derrick

(creator: William R Boyer)

William R Boyer
The Rev Hugh Derrick was the pastor at St Matthew's United Methodist Church in Olney, Maryland. He had been there for nine years and was now middle aged. He and his loving wife Elizabeth (the daughter of a minister and perhaps modelled on the author's own wife) had two children, a boy aged 11 and a younger girl. His first ministerial appointment had been at Myersville in Frederick County where he had gone straight out of seminary and had had "the best nine years of his life", and where his parents still lived.

He is a hard pressed man who lives a real religious life of his own which, coupled with his constant concern for other people (such as the dying old lady, Margaret, with whom he prays), and his occasional feeling of depression, make him a thoroughly convincing character.

(The Rev) William (Bill) R Boyer is a retired United Methodist minister who lives with his wife, Mary, in Westminster, Maryland, where they are active members of Sandy Mount United Methodist Church. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.

After being awarded a BA at the University of Maryland and an MDiv at the Drew University School of Theology, he went on, over a twenty-five year career, to serve three appointments, all in the Baltimore-Washington area, including a time as chaplain to the Maryland State Police.

In the middle of his ministry, he asked for and was granted a leave of absence (unfortunately we are not told why he did this) which lasted sixteen years during which he was principally employed by Alexander & Alexander, a commercial insurance broker in Baltimore where he rose from salesman to full vice president and manager of the Washington, D.C. office. Also during that time he served as President of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the Board of Washington Goodwill Industries.

Seven years after retiring, he published his first two Hugh Derrick stories on Kindle and Nook, and a third is on its way. He sees his books as "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."

Wednesday Night Servces (2012)
Wednesday Night Services gets off to a promising start in October 1982 with the Rev Hugh Derrick receiving a note from a dying old lady telling him, "Need to talk to you. Very important. Someone trying to kill me." Helped by retired homicide detective Maxwell Thomas Bourke (who also has two almost 40-year-old cases he wants to discuss with him), Derrick tries to find time not only to help her but to carry on with all the never-ending routine work of a church (such as finding time to prepare sermons and hurry off to visit a seven-year-old boy who has just had his appendix out). Before long he finds himself concerned with two murders and an attempted suicide among the older members of his United Methodist Church in Olney, as well as a whole series of abortions that took place many years ago but still have a distinctly strange bearing on the present.

Derrick makes an altogether convincing clergyman, and the author is at his best when describing his role and responsibilities, as when he explains the different challenges facing doctors and ministers: "A doctor observes symptoms – separating real from imagined – diagnoses the illness, and prescribes remedies" while the minister "tends to his people's inmost selves, where fears and imaginings are absolutely real, even if they bear not the tiniest resemblance to reality. He holds their hands through terror and grief and leads them, if he is able, to green pastures and still waters. Sheep need veterinarians, but they also need shepherds."

There are frequent references to what must have been the author's own experiences as when we are told, "Derrick could never understand how people who normally try to avoid him were so happy to see him at a time of death. Some primitive instinct, he guessed." There are the perennial problems of "living in a fishbowl, making ends meet on a small salary, being on-call day and night …. Being expected to protect confidences is not usually counted as a sacrifice, but it may be the most damaging over time. Not to unload the millstone of others' woes, to have no emotional vent, is a soul poison." As for his own fears and failures, "Church people demanded perfection from their minister. Any part of him not meeting that impossible standard must be hidden. He must, at least, maintain the image of perfection, and his family must, at least, play along – a mountain of potential damage all around." What he needs, and seldom gets, is "quiet time, time to collect his thoughts and prepare." Still, when hard pressed, he could always fall back on the "old standbys from the piety phrasebook. Ministers must master the skill. 'I have never had a better apple pie.' I'm sorry to meet you on such an occasion.' 'Let's agree to disagree'."

As so often with Kindle, the book has some odd spacing and one whole section (an interesting description of the meaning of sin) appears twice! But the author is a good storyteller and manages to hold the interest even when the plots starts to sound rather forced, as when the (unidentified) murderer says things like, "The old cow's gotta die .... Committing murders is like getting pickles out of a jar. The first one is hard, but after that they come easier."

Derrick's own family gets threatened, and he finds himself having to re-examine his own basic beliefs. "His spiritual reservoir was dry. He possessed not one ounce of inner strength, nothing to offer anyone in the way of faith or hope." He turns to Thomas a Kempis' 13th century devotional guide, The Imitation of Christ and "read the celebrated opening words: 'He that followeth after me walketh not in darkness, saith the Lord.' " "Well, Lord," he said quietly, "I'm walking in darkness right now. Light me a path." But, as he uncovers more and more guilty secrets, "Once cocksure of God's will, he now found himself pathetically unsure of all things."

But still he has work to do, as when he attends a wedding conference involving a pregnant mother who brings her children with her ("no one to leave them with, no money for babysitters") and a "father groom with a baseball cap turned backward, one earring and a three-day beard". It doesn't get off to a good start when she tells him, "I've always dreamt of a big church wedding," and her partner adds, "We've written our own service."

It is the glimpses into the realities of a minister's life and beliefs that give the book its considerable strength. The crime plot may be less convincing, but the book is still to be recommended.

The author has his own website that includes his blog.

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Wednesday Night Services cover
The cover looks distinctly homemade - but then you don't really need a cover on kindle.
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