Words about God and Life for the Attention Deficit Generation

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The Body of Christ on Steroids

Wonder of wonder, miracles of miracles! A Clergy Conference address worth listening to!

Martyn Percy of Cuddeson was invited to speak to the St Albans Clergy Conference in Swanwick last month1. In his first address he commented on the strange seductiveness of contemporary culture for the Church, and especially for a Church and minsters wanting to be effective, to make a difference. The problem comes because “We’ve found ourselves, strangely, as a Church, seduced into believing that numbers and success can be elided with faithfulness.” The Gospel has little, or nothing, to do with “numbers” and “success”, especially in the way those concepts are defined by the world. Rather, we should as a church be considering the reactions of the prophets to the experience of exile in Babylon:

You can imagine the Israelites in, say, Babylon, and those wonderful, whispering voices of Anglican accommodation that would’ve been around even then, turning round to the leaders and to the prophets saying, “Now look. We’re not really saying that we want to dump Jehovah. All we are saying is that the Babylonians have done really rather well for themselves. They have nice gardens. [Laughter] They seem to be running rather good water-systems. The roads are excellent, health-care provision is good. So, we’re really saying how about a bit of a mixed economy here? How about giving these gods a bit of a run, and keeping on with Jehovah, and let’s see how it goes?”

The prophets refused this easy, sophisticated, buy-in to their time and culture. Their message was “no” and “wait”. This is hard. As Percy went on to say:

The (Steroid) Body of ChristThere is no easy buy-out from your time in exile. The things you might want to do, to bring success, and growth, may ultimately do more harm than good. That’s a difficult thing to say. Some of the things we do in mission and in evangelism, give you short-term success, but medium- and long-term problems. A little bit like the Body of Christ taking steroids; it gives you plenty of critical mass, for just a little bit of effort, and it look great. But the medium- and the long-term-consequences can be disastrous.

Here Percy is talking about mission work and evangelism which focuses on “spirituality” rather than “Jesus” and thinks that you can camouflage all the demands of the Gospel behind words and practices like “latte” and “cafe”.

He concludes that he wants the Church to become much more deeply reflective about the things it “ingests” from the contemporary world. Things ingested grow within us, and may, may, may, produce wonderful, immediate results, with all the salving of egos and attention from archdeacons which go with that, but which may actually have deeply damaging long-term consequences. “Latte Spirituality” is one such thing, according to Percy.

The Church’s obsession with “Leadership” is another. It is the crack cocaine of ecclesiology, and because everyone you know has tried it, and liked it, and is on it, it becomes harder and harder to resist.

Welcome to the world of Jeremiah: “No” and “Wait”

  1. Martyn Percy, “The Challenges of Contemporary Culture” (Conference Address presented at the Meeting the Challenge of Mission and Ministry, The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Alfreton, Derbyshire, June 25, 2012). The talk is here: go listen to all of it. []

Another Bishop drinks the Kool-Aid

(and no, I’m not referring to Peterborough)
I heard recently that the Bishop of Exeter gave a copy of If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry to all his new ordinands this Michaelmastide. It is could to be able to report the fall of the South-West to the inexorable tide that is the Herberticidal movement.

After the fall of Exeter, it seems that Buckingham is the latest conquest for Kill George. Bishop Alan Wilson blogged the book on Tuesday:

At home I have a groaning shelf of books published since 1900 about ministry in the Church of England. Justin Lewis-Anthony’s If you meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him is the latest and, no mean feat, by far the best.

Justin’s excellent book does not play this how-to game, although it does end up talking Turkey, with excellent alternative strategies and tactics to help lower spiritual and personal blood pressure, and bring a Kill-George-Herbert priest back from the Church of the Planet Zog into the Church of England.

This book is a vastly intelligent, compassionate, understanding and helpful resource. Some will find it a bit clever, so if you prefer your books stupid, you may be disappointed.

(emphasis in the original)

Modesty and copyright prevents me from quoting all of it, but it is here, in all its glory!

(I shouldn’t be surprised really, as +Buckingham is one of only two bishops in the Church of England whose pronouncements I can be bothered reading!)

More Herbertiana

There was a review of If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry in the Church Times two weeks ago (which has now emerged from behind the CT’s subscriber cordon— read it here). Not a wholly flattering account, but it’s never a good idea to review the reviews (!).

The review drew out a letter to the editor in the following week’s edition, of which the only thing I will say is never let actually reading a book interfere with your opinion of its contents.

In the meantime, I have been receiving some unsolicted comments from those clergy who, foolishly according the CT, have put the book at No. 2 in the CT’s best-seller list.

A priest of Coventry diocese:

Congratulations and many thanks for your brilliant book & title. Your book makes what I do seem legitimate.

A (retired) priest of Bradford diocese:

I felt I must write and say after just a brief examination of your If you meet Geo Herbert on the road … it’s a book I have been waiting for all my ministry.

A priest of Peterborough diocese:

I just emailed you to tell you how good I thought your book ”If you meet George Herbert …” I too am very fond of G Herbert, sometimes quote him, but I think that your book is excellent, honest and an accurate portrayal of the way things are for so many of us, including me.

A dean of a cathedral:

It’s a fascinating analysis…1

A priest of London diocese:

I have a couple of chapters left and have so far found it encouraging, challenging and funny!

A priest of Birmingham diocese:

Thank you for your book. It’s helping me get through a hard time in my ministry.

A priest of Bury St Edmunds diocese:

I am really enjoying your book. It says so many things I have thought for years.

A priest of Derby diocese:

… I particularly found the idea of the “Cult of Nice” to be a very powerful way of understanding parish life…

  1. And yes, I realise that this can be interpreted in all sorts of ways! []

A sermon on Kill George…

… and by the man who wrote the blurb on the back of the book, no less!

…in this calm summer time one of the good things which happens to me is that I get sent new books from church publishers for review or even with the invitation to write commending comments on the back cover.

One such recently was called ‘If you meet George Herbert on the way – be sure to assassinate him’. George Herbert was a courtier, priest and poet in the Seventeenth Century who wrote a classic handbook for the local pastorally-minded clergyperson called ‘A priest to the temple’. We need to revisit priesthood but I did not take to this book and wrote a few grudging lines for the back page full of double meaning for the reader to interpret. The publishers just edited them so that they read like a glowing commendation! Just like the theatre billboards which read Astonishing, Ground breaking or Sensational – but which could equally be code for Challenging, Awful or Unbelievable.

I really have made it. I’m being denounced from pulpits.1

<stewie griffin voice>How thrilling!</stewie griffin voice>

  1. and did you like the endearing way he forgot the title of the book, to boot! []

Another review for Kill George…

… this time from Portsmouth Cathedral’s Newsletter.

If you buy books purely for their title, this is irresistible. Justin Lewis-Anthony delivers a brisk demolition of the George Herbert myth, before launching into an assessment of what modern ministry needs.

His initial thesis, occupying one-third of his volume, is that most George Herbert propaganda is inaccurate and what remains is irrelevant to today’s ministerial milieu. The true subject lies in his sub-title Radically rethinking priestly ministry. So this is less a book about George Herbert than about the challenges facing the priest in today’s Church. The author proposes three images of the priest; as Witness, Watchman and Weaver, before developing his methodology, expressed as five pillars in support of  self-knowledge, parish-knowledge and skills-knowledge.

Arguing skilfully, Justin Lewis-Anthony plumbs a plethora of sources, frequently featuring Michael Ramsey, John Howard Yoder, Rowan Williams and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and deploys anecdotal evidence to pleasing effect. If you meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him is supported by foot-notes, an extensive bibliography and comprehensive index. Justin Lewis-Anthony entitles his final chapter ‘Standing by Herbert’s Grave’, but stops short of dancing on it.

At a friend’s ordination recently, the preacher beatified Bemerton’s brightest; dare we recommend this book to our friend?

Kill George reviewed

Kill GeorgeIf You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him received its first journal review today, in the Catholic Herald. Along with some very kind words, Jonathan Wright (my new best friend) has given an excellent summary, of both the book and what I am trying to achieve by writing it.

Under the headline The Cult of Nice, Wright says:

Fear not. Despite his book’s eye-catching title, Lewis-Anthony doesn’t hate George Herbert. He’s actually quite fond of him, especially his poems. What he detests is the way in which Herbert’s legacy has been abused over the past 350 years in order to cultivate a paradigm of ministry that has long since become redundant. Some Church of England vicars still try to live up to the romanticised (historically exaggerated) image of Herbert as the beloved, conscientious minister, living in a bucolic idyll, being all things to all men. It is this phantom Herbert that Lewis-Anthony wants to slay. I’d be happy to join the execution squad.

I’m glad that my true attitude to George Herbert (the person) has come over so clearly. That has not always been the reaction to the speaking and writing I have done on the subject in the past year (some of the comments in Thinking Anglicans were particularly unthoughtful in that regard).

Modesty forbids me from quoting the adjectives in Wright’s review (oh well, if you insist: “compelling”, “wonderful”, “apt”, “witty”, “well-intentioned”, “sophisticated”), but my son especially like the way the review finishes:

…the Church of England is fortunate to have such a bold, idol-smashing thinker within its ranks.

Ahem! <embarrassed cough>

Please go and read it all.

Kill George gets episcopal recognition

Kill GeorgeIf You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Re-thinking Priestly Ministry has been out for a month now, and it is beginning to get episcopal recognition.

The Bishop of Grimsby, David , mentioned it in his post-ordinations blog post:

As the cost of employing priests increasingly depends on the generosity of congregations, we need to ensure that those in stipendiary ministry bring a quality and competancy  which supports such generosity.  At the same time, the church needs to ensure that it is using all vocations to ministry in such a way as to honour the gifts and talents of those call by God not only into the ordained ministry but also into Reader and other lay ministeries.  Justin Lewis-Anthony recent book – “If you meet George Herbert on the road, Kill Him” challenges the Church of England to rethink how we unfold the practice of priestly ministry.  As the resource of stipendiary ministry reduces, it is time for us to understand how best to use the gifts and talents of those who respond to the call of God.

BTW, a prize to the person who can spot the most glaring typo in the book (which, of course, invalidates the whole argument!) — hint: it’s on p. 9.

Kill George Cheap!

An email received today from Church House Bookshop:

Exclusive Special Offer – Today Only!

Today only, until midnight (BST) on Thursday 9 July, Church House Bookshop are offering the following recently published titles at specially reduced prices:

If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him
– was ?14.99, now only ?13.50 (www.chbookshop.co.uk/2411995)

I love the question marks!

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