As a former Roman Catholic priest, Charles Pilon wanted to write a book addressing the internal power struggles that plague so many congregations. But he knew that if he wrote a dry, scholarly treatise, only a few religious scholars would be likely to buy it and even fewer would be likely to read it. For the message to be effective, it had to reach the people sitting in the pews.

So the Roseville man wrote a novel, "Waiting for Mozart" (Caritis Communications, $15.95). And any expectations that it's going to be a dry, scholarly treatise are gone by page 5. That's when an angry parishioner starts screaming at a priest, who goes berserk and tries to strangle her.

"It's not about priest-bashing," said Pilon, who stepped down from the priesthood after a decade to get married, but remained employed by the church as a business administrator until his retirement in 2000. "Yes, the priest has [control] issues, but laypeople bring their junk to the table, too. Everyone is so self-righteous that they refuse to bend. We have to remember that Jesus was inclusive of everyone."

Pilon wrote about a Catholic church because that's what he knows best, "but this is not just an issue for Catholics," he said. "In fact, it's not even just a church issue. I've heard people in social-service organizations complain about the same things. These are common experiences."

The novel focuses on an increasingly contentious power struggle between a priest and a few parish board members. The attack that opens the story wasn't in the first draft, which focused more on "insider baseball" topics.

"To me, as a former priest, the chapters I wrote about the antagonism and tension in the church council meetings was powerful stuff," he said. "But I came to realize that the average person doesn't care that much about it."

Because of his career in the church, the first question he gets asked by his associates is if there is a character based on them. And even though they are composite characters, Pilon always answers, "Yes."

"They say, 'Am I in the book?' And I say, 'We're all in the book,'" he said. "This is based on my lifetime of experiences working in the church."

Ultimately, he hopes the book gets readers to ask about how their own church is run. "I want to start a civil discourse," he said. "We have to put our arrogance aside to look for ways that might be better."

Pilon's book is available at several local Christian bookstores. It's also available on his website,

Help wanted

Lutheran Social Service has put out a call for volunteers to make a final push to wrap up repair work from the floods that ravaged southern Minnesota last August. More than 70 families in Fillmore and Winona counties still are living in FEMA trailers, and an estimated 200 families are living in houses that need additional repairs.

While more than 5,000 volunteers have accomplished much in the past 11 months, there still is a long way to go, said Cindy Johnson, the agency's director of disaster services.

"We are hoping to inspire a groundswell of support for the final push to help families return safely to their homes," she said. "Our goal is to be there until the last case is closed, but we need lots of muscle and volunteer labor to get the job done."

While we're on the subject of volunteers, two agencies mentioned in an article at left about short-term mission trips said that there remains a major need for workers in New Orleans.

"Just because Hurricane Katrina isn't in the news anymore, people think everything is back to normal," said Mary Lou White, executive administrative assistant at STEP (Short-Term Evangelical Missions). "That's not true. There's still a tremendous need there."

All for one

St. Joan of Arc Church is hosting an interfaith prayer for the people of Tibet that will include blessings from nearly every faith practice from Catholic and Lutheran to Hindu and Zen.

Highlighting the event will be reflections by the former abbot of Kumbum Monastery in Tibet, Arjia Rinpoche, and sacred chants by the Gyuto Tantric Choir. Twin Cities vocalist Robert Robertson also will perform.

Time is 2 p.m. Sunday. The church is at 4537 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392