Flying to Tombstone

Jerry Hanning is an Episcopal priest and pilot. With his nine-year-old daughter, Sadie, he migrates from the Midwest to Tucson following the sudden death of his young wife. Coping with an interior struggle over his call and his faith, Jerry searches for new relationships and a sense of purpose. The rebuilding of his life begins as he ministers on weekends in a small church near the Arizona/Mexico border.

It is there, especially in the picturesque former mining towns of Tombstone and Bisbee, that Jerry becomes involved in the lives and hopes of a small group of oft times quirky people. He also finds himself in the middle of the struggle between ranchers, the Border Patrol and humanitarians over illegal immigration. Grief, transformation, ethical life and mystical spirituality are all confronted by Jerry and his parishioners during a single season of Lent.


“…leads [the reader] into the complexities of ordinary people dealing with the big issues of life: love, sex, religion, politics, grief, death, and the call of justice in the life of faith. An exciting addition to religious fiction.” – Marcus Borg

Topics: Spiritual Exploration & Practice. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Flying to Tombstone

  1. Review

    The layout of this engaging, engrossing novel is innovative and interesting. It begins with a prologue telling of an incident of violence between ranchers and illegal immigrants on the Arizona border with Mexico. One soon discovers that this incident points to the social context of the story. Then each chapter has a sub-heading from the Christian liturgical year of Lent, beginning with the Last Sunday after Epiphany and ending with Easter, pointing to the faith journey traveled in one year by some of the characters in the story. Beneath the subheading of each chapter is a quotation from the writings of contemporary Biblical scholars Marcus J. Borg and Walter Wink, from The Book of Common Prayer, and a few other sources, which reflect the dimension of depth which will engage the people on their journey.

    Following the sudden death of his young wife, Jerry Hanning, angry, confused, and full of doubts, accompanied by his nine-year-old daughter Sadie, migrated from the Midwest to Tucson, Arizona to begin a new life. Jerry is a forty-two year old Episcopal priest and pilot of a thirty year old Cessna Skyhawk. Gordon McBride is an active Episcopal priest and parish rector whose hobby is flying. He states, however, that “None of the characters and situations depicted in this novel represent real people or actual events.” Yet it is obvious that the author draws upon his own experience as a priest and pilot in developing the character of Jerry Hanning.

    His Bishop assigns Jerry as the weekend vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Bisbee, a recently merged congregation formed with St. Paul’s Church in Tombstone. The story is framed by the struggle, often violent, between native ranchers, the Border Patrol, and those wrestling with the issue of justice over the illegal immigration of people from Mexico seeking work and a better life. The connections, interactions, and relationships of the members of the church and the inhabitants of Bisbee are the heart of the story. The author is skilled in fleshing out his characters as real, complex, conflicted, struggling human beings. In the midst of death, grief, broken relationships, and loneliness they are searching for new relationships and a sense of purpose and meaning for their lives which involves love, sex, religion, politics and the search for justice.

    Recognizing a need for sharing and support, Jerry organizes a Lenten study group in Tombstone at Nellie Cashman’s Cafe giving people an opportunity to seriously examine their faith, “discard some worn out gods and move on to something that works better for them.” Jerry is romantically involved with Kate Becker until she reveals she is married, though separated from her husband. He is devastated. Subsequently, he is attracted to Maddie, recently widowed. She is a pilot and when she buys a Cessna N8645L, Jerry helps her brush up on her flight training. Gradually Jerry is led to see the injustice of making immigration illegal, and together with Maggie begins to engage in activities outside the law to assist people from Mexico enter the country. Their activities reach a climax at an abandoned airport near Tombstone.

    Flying to Tombstone is Gordon McBride’s first novel. One hopes he is working on a second one.

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