For God’s Sake

2017-03-10 11.46.35

I’m racked with guilt. My colleague Jessica Martin gave me a preview pdf of this new book weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since. A few things have been happening chez nous…

Read it! Buy it! It’s a worthwhile and timely contribution to our thinking – a collection of essays by members of the “Littlemore Group”, by intention young theologians in current ministry on priesthood and prayer in the particularity of their places and in a church marked by change. Funerals and weddings, baptisms and the eucharist, schools and buildings – they’re all there, along with poetry and poetics too.

Why do I rate it highly? Because we are so often so busy that we don’t STOP and think and stare and pray and put our thoughts in order. Because we especially don’t do this when we are in the whirlwind of practical ministry. And because these authors (and I happen to know nearly all of them quit well, so I’ll not make comparisons) have a had a good go at it in this book.

What questions am I left with? The most obvious is that the way in which in the very proper ministerial trajectories of the contributors have already led so many of them out of parish ministry makes me wonder whether there is any hope of sustaining such reflectivity in the bulk of our priestly roles. I look back on my cohort at theological college and count how few are still parish priests. I am not one of them, though I did make a positive choice to give it a long go, and I am glad I did. How do we sustain and encourage those who choose the same? How do we mitigate the sense of “preferment” and hierarchy that still pervades our structure?

Another is that I am still not quite over the worry that has haunted me that some local ministries that cock a snook at management and money are not realistic enough about counting the cost of the tower, or more personally, content to survive on other people’s generosity without engaging with the delicacy of that process. But actually, I repent. There may be some outliers who are not properly serious about this dynamic, but that issue for me now is now outweighed by the growing realisation that we all need to set alongside our strategic programmes the remembrance that our purpose is not to save the institution but souls and society. Our institution has been through massive transmogrifications in the past and will go through them again. God works through them and despite them. So local parish ministry and diocesan leadership is going to increasingly be about agility, innovation, catching the moment. And in that process much will be provisional, and much will be poetic. And I pray for those starting out in ministry now like my daughter whose experience will be much less cosseted than mine has been, but perhaps, just perhaps, more dynamic and renewing too.

So read the book I say, but do your own reflecting and writing too. And let God be God.

For God’s Sake: Re-Imagining Priesthood and Prayer in a Changing Church, ed Jessica Martin and Sarah Coakley. Paperback  £16.98 ISBN-13: 9781848258143