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Book Review: Letters to My Friends

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Phil Gunther has become a well-known figure to readers of the MB Herald online and many in his home province of Saskatchewan, where he was for many years the pastor of the Parliament Community Church of Regina and now serves as Director of Ministry for the province’s MB Conference. He is married to Janine Renee Emch and together they are parents to three married sons. In Letters to my Friends, Phil sets out to write words of encouragement, especially to those who like himself have given themselves to public—mostly pastoral—ministry. 

In Letters to my Friends, Phil gives us seven weeks of readings, one for each day of the week, touching on a range of themes and always with the intention of offering hope and encouragement from deep faith that God walks alongside us. Many of the themes will resonate far beyond the setting in which Phil has done his writing. 

I liked Phil’s humility and vulnerability most about his writing. There is no sense of someone removed either from tough experiences or disappointments. After a particularly hard year in 2020 he writes, “I feel I have good grounds to claim that 2020 was cursed.” But that was not how he assessed it in the end. It was lived not only “under the sun,” but also “under the Son” and that brought “grace, hope, peace and joy.” He experienced that keenly as he went through a serious illness and lay in the hospital alongside a patient who was there for similar reasons but without God. Phil could become the presence of God for the man. 

Phil’s letters treat living in a confusing world, gaining resilience, recognizing our fragility, responding to trouble, slowing down, the importance of love and of time, life editing (or decluttering), finding balance, learning contentment, bold benevolence and much more—you get the idea. He has thought about many of the themes that arise in all our lives and he has learned a great deal of the wisdom that might help us negotiate them. He always writes as a disciple of Christ. 

There is an attractive grace about Phil’s letters. He says he writes and then wordsmiths what he has written. His letters show the care he exercises. A letter on prayer has the following passage: 

“Priest and theologian Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote, ‘Before all contemplations and meditations, there ought always to be made the preparatory prayer.’ During times of significant searching, wanting direction and discernment from God, I commit myself to times of listening—a most essential component of prayer. I adhere to the counsel of Loyola and carefully prepare my heart and soul. I need to center my whole being to one task, listening to the still small whisper of God.” 

That spirit is everywhere to be found in Phil’s book. He wrote it with the encouragement of staff in the conference office and of Kindred Productions, who published it. Each letter has a page of space for the reader’s own reflections—encouragement to practice or comment on what was written. Many references indicate Phil is a reader of other wise counsellors. This book will nourish the spirits of those who pick it up and spend time with it. 

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