Purging bookcases

Photograph of two bookcases, one on the left has 3 empty shelves

The pre-move purging has begun. This morning I went through my main, theology bookcases in my study and pulled out all the books that I know I’ll never read again, or even for the first time in some cases.

That’s the thing with us theologians: we do have a terrible obsession with collecting books. It’s one of the occupational hazards that comes with working for an omniscient being; it’s a real struggle to try to keep up!

A lot of the books I’m getting rid of I picked up as freebies, a special deal for ordinands at theological college: inherit the libraries of deceased clerics. A lot of the books reflect my interests ten years ago. It was hard to let go of some, knowing that while I’d love to spend the time getting into that particular branch of theological enquiry, realisitically I know that I’ll never get around to reading them. Some books I bought for background reading on a particular event; that event has passed and I’ve no need to hold on to it now.

Thankfully, the exercise was easier than I had anticipated. I realised that deciding which books to keep and which to dispose of is, for me at least, also a question about defining at least part of my self-identity, because I hold a great deal of value in knowledge, and books reflect something of that. Also, until now, I’ve seen myself very much as a theological resource for the communities of faith to which I have belonged, and so while I suspected that I wouldn’t ever be called upon to draw on the collected wisdom of those volumes that I’ve now binned I still held onto them … just in case.

It is almost nine years since I began at TISEC and if I’ve not used these books by now in full-time, stipendiary ministry, I doubt I ever will. Besides, I’ll soon have free access to St Mary’s College theological library.

But I’m moving on now; and moving on professionally into a totally different sphere. In a sense the exercise of redefining who I am began about a year ago when I started to explore the possibilities of what and where I might go next, and was resolved about three months ago when I decided that I would wholeheartedly look for employment in the area of Information Architecture (I know I promised I’d write a bit about what that is sometime, I’ve not forgotten).

I now already have three empty shelves, and two boxes of books ready to be picked up by the kind people who run the annual Christian Aid book sale in May at St Andrew’s and St George’s, George Street, Edinburgh. And there are many more bookshelves to purge. It has only just begun.

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Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 46 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Latterly, web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall. Currently on sabbatical. I am a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir.

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