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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like the curate's egg: good in parts
When I was at theological college, once a week we studied "TPM": I think it stood for the Theology of Practical Ministry. Chiefly it involved reflecting on an encounter to see where God was present or absent and how our own responses matched God's call in that situation.
Of this collection of nine essays, six are essentially theological reflections in the TPM style:...
Published on 21 Jun. 2012 by R. S. Stanier

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life Outside The Vicarge Walls
For those who feel that the Christian priest has no place in today's increasingly secular age, this book offers an insight into their work that will challenge that view. The book is essentailly a collection of essays by priests working in todays Anglican church. These essays tell the stories of their work,sharing in peoples joy and pain. At times it is a difficult and...
Published on 15 Feb. 2009 by ADC


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like the curate's egg: good in parts, 21 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
When I was at theological college, once a week we studied "TPM": I think it stood for the Theology of Practical Ministry. Chiefly it involved reflecting on an encounter to see where God was present or absent and how our own responses matched God's call in that situation.
Of this collection of nine essays, six are essentially theological reflections in the TPM style: some are excellent, but, reader, be warned. For many ordinands, theological reflection in the TPM style was an excuse for self-indulgent waffle. If this rings a bell for you, then don't buy this book: it will drive you mad.
For others more sympathetic to this kind of reflection, there are some beautifully written and thought-through pieces here: the stand-out for me is Jessica Martin's. I won't describe it all, but it is a raw account of her close relationship to a drug addict, and the near helpless love involved; it is almost unbearably poignant. The others are more hit and miss, but when they hit, they do so effectively. Many have taken an extreme moment of ministry to reflect upon: for Stephen Cherry, ministry after the murder of a child; for Sarah Coakley, ministry to a man with severe depression; for Edmund Newey, ministry after a young man's suicide. In a way, this is inevitable: the writers have chosen an aspect they knew would be interesting, because it is so rare and extreme.
The problem, though, is that the book is aiming to do something more, which is to help to reimagine what contemporary priesthood should be. In this, the examples are misleading as they relate to times when - for sure - these priests' ministry felt valid and needed, but which by their nature are rare, and therefore cannot be a guide to ministry for 95% of the time.
More worrying also is a tendency to salute the church when it connects with the few not the many. Sam Wells notes with approval a parishioner pointing out how Godly Play stories only work well with small congregations: "If we had more people, we couldn't do the things we do." (p78) That may be true, but that brings problems. Andrew Shanks defines as 'propaganda' (and therefore a betrayal of the Gospel) seemingly anything that might touch on evangelism: indeed he claims "the early Church could sense the danger [of greater numbers]" and cites Mark's messianic secret as back-up (p134). Hmm, A. that's an idiosyncratic reading of Mark; B. Acts, THE Biblical account of the early church loves it when the number of Christians increases.
This minority focus leads down some blind alleys. Coakley states proudly: "the priest who prays faithfully in his/ her church will have no trouble discovering who the local poor are. They will find the priest (italicised)." (p13)
Sorry, but, no, they won't and they don't. A few individuals will, and that may make a priest feel she is 'meeting the poor', but all the research shows that at around 60% of the English population (and more of those in poverty) go to their grave having no experience of the church whatsoever, and having never spoken to a priest. It's not good enough, even narcissistic, to suggest that the poor 'will find the priest'.
Thus, the priestly model given is a very passive priesthood: sensitive, yes, intelligent, yes, but one that meets the needs of England today? I don't think so.
As individual essays, this book is often very good; but as the beginning of a programme for a re-imagined Church, this is flawed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid mosaic, 23 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
If it's too obscure, it can't be laughed at. Humour is one of the surest signs that something is still alive in the public mind. So if the changing and contentious role of the priest still amuses the English (as it has since at least the days of Chaucer), that in itself is some reassurance that the Church of England has not totally slipped from view, even if its clergy would rather underpin their ministry with credibility and trust than be made the butt of jokes.
Nevertheless, confusion is the stock in trade of the comedy scriptwriter, and the clergy are most often funny because of their trusting, unworldly nature, or because they seem to lay claim to moral rectitude and spiritual virtue -- even as their own behaviour reveals that they are as flawed as anyone else. Interestingly, the most recent television priest sitcom, "The Vicar of Dibley", rather perpetuates the old conventions of how to poke fun at ecclesiastics by standing them on their head: not only does it present a new paradigm of a Church of England where female clergy are in the front line, but it plays on the unabashed worldliness of a minister who only rarely ventures an obvious nod in the direction of holiness or spirituality.
Reassured, then, that it still exists somewhere in the public mind, ministry in the Church of England can press on with its many urgent concerns. The essays collected in "Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture" offer us a picture of English priesthood through a series of vignettes, each one reflecting both challenge and hope. Together they form a vivid mosaic which gives a composite picture of the challenges facing priesthood, but demonstrating that it is alive and well, albeit living in relative obscurity in postmodern Britain.
Strong metaphors, differing viewpoints
Each essay is complex, well argued, thoughtful and transcendently prayerful, and each presents a strong metaphor. Sarah Coakley's introduction likens the Church of England to mains drainage: effective, though all but invisible -- but liable to cause a stink when anything goes wrong. In "Representation" Stephen Cherry tells us how the grim discovery of body parts in a local canal led to an outpouring of community grief and a chance for his priesthood "to open up space in which others can be healed, transformed and called". In "Glory" Peter Wilcox muses on the "quasi-religious status" of football in British society, exploring both the glories and "the darker side of the Beautiful Game" and wondering "What can the Church learn from football?" Samuel Wells explores the possibilities of Godly play in inner-city ministry in "Imagination", "creating spaces where children could genuinely meet God, quite possibly in ways I had never imagined." In "Presence" Edmund Newey examines funeral ministry and the challenges of creating concept of "home", above all for those whose bereavement has robbed them of a sense of being truly at home. Jessica Martin's "Attention" is a wrenching account of her efforts to uphold her ordained ministry and her fellowship at a Cambridge college while living with her daughter's heroin addiction. In "Honesty", Andrew Shanks presents a vision of a Church of England ready to free itself of the shackles of its past narrow-minded propaganda and bigoted collusion with what he calls "bully-power", and instead "embody an exemplary, peaceful communion between people of every different sort". In the final essay, Grace Davie's "Debate" asks whether a church rooted in the geography empire can still play a priestly role in the UK, and examines the relationship between an established church, the state and the nation, noting that Anglicanism's rival denominations notably do not call for its disestablishment.
In short, the collection offers a panoply of viewpoints, some strongly narrative in nature, others more concerned with a broader vision of the future of the Church of England, and all in harmony with each other in their conviction that through the ministry of its priesthood it does play a central role in the spiritual life of the country, and will continue to do so.
In all this, churchmanship seems to take a back seat, though the general sense of these essays is that traditional forms of "being Church" play only a limited role in the vision presented in these pages, and some at least of the writers stand on the liberal wing of the Church, both points which I address below.
Football: paradigm for a new way of being church -- or graven image?

Two essays stand out for this reader. The most immediately engaging and provocative, "Glory", is a wistful and persuasive look at the hold that football has on millions of people in England. Canon Peter Wilcox is clearly himself football crazy, and makes no bones about why the popularity of the Beautiful Game must concern the Church: "nothing engages the male residents of England's council estates like football: not work or family, not education or exercise, and certainly not church."
Not for nothing is soccer compared to religion: it ties people together, it gives their lives meaning, and it exhilarates and depresses them by turns. The parallels between contemporary professional football and worship are drawn over and over again in the flowery prose of the commentator: the stadium as cathedral; the crowd as congregation; the match and its accompanying rituals as a drama reminiscent of the Eucharist; brilliant play as the quasi-sacramental inspiration of a deity; the focussed unity of a club's fans as the sense of "connectedness" with the Godhead; top players as demigods or perhaps avenging demons; the appeals to a higher power for success on the pitch ("Praying for England") as intercessions; and the rehabilitation of one-time perceived sinners like Beckham or Ronaldo as redemption.
Oh that the significance of the crucifixion or the meaning of a parable were as hotly discussed in the pub on a Saturday night as the doubtful penalty awarded at a deciding moment or even the future of a failing coach! If just a fraction of those devoting most of their Saturdays to football would spend a mere hour in church on a Sunday!
But Willcox does bring the reader down with a bump from these flights of fancy. He points to the flaws that scar the face of football and perhaps blacken its soul: the blinkered tribal outlook of fans, the foul abuse and wanton violence some of them direct at rivals, and the amoral and occasionally criminal behaviour of star players (on and off the pitch). Not only does Willcox suggest that a fan's utter devotion to a football club can have a "dehumanizing aspect to the experience and a loss of perspective", but he speaks of "how readily football achieves an unhealthy priority in people's lives", and of the danger of idolatry.
His conclusion, though, is that the modern professional game has much to teach the Church, both about the society in which it must carry out its ministry and about the way that ministry must be conducted if it is to be effective. Ultimately, he suggests, the Church must remember how St Paul, on seeing an altar at Athens with the inscription "To an unknown god", canalised the obvious, rather open-ended religiosity of the city's people and told them who the real God was -- insisting that he was not "an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals" (Acts 17:29).
But Paul had a receptive audience. The intellectual curiosity of the Greeks he met (and no doubt of those eager to meet Jesus in John 12:21) made them fertile ground. Modern England is much stonier, and the vitality and sheer entertainment value of football give it a powerful grip on a population eager for meaning but sceptical of a Church felt to be concerned with telling people what not to do, to be rooted in outdated ideas about faith when almost everything can be proved and to be tarnished by its own past greed and authoritarianism.
Oppressor turned pioneer by honesty
That discomforting history is the approach taken by another of these essays to the challenges confronting the Church of England. If Wilcox takes a radical look at football and priestly presence, another Canon, Andrew Shanks of Manchester Cathedral, takes an even more radical look at the need for the Church to slough off the ugliness of certain aspects of its past. In "Honesty", he dreams of "a Church of England transformed into a community of pioneering honesty. A pioneeringly honest oppressor church." Recalling the murderous anti-Semitism which reached its peak in the York pogrom of 1190 and its mobs howling for Jewish blood, he warns that "it is so easy to read the gospel in an antisemitic way, yet it is such a complete nullification of the gospel's real truth-potential."
Shanks sees the resurrection of the crucified as a mighty call to cast aside the cruelty and violence inherent in the cross, the embodiment of Roman rule and of the ruthless nature of the so-called pax romana.
The saving truth here depends on one's grasping the symbol of crucifixion as a representation of everything corruptly repressive in one's own culture. The symbol-complex `resurrection of the crucified' becomes a saving truth only insofar as it is understood as God's verdict on any refusal of the powerful in general to heed conscientious dissent from below; and on any collusion of passive bystanders in general with such bully-power.
And yet, says Shanks, Christian faith has too often lapsed into evasiveness, unwilling to admit to its murderous misrepresentation of its own central symbol and work through its relationship with Judaism prayerfully.
This same spirit of deeper inquiry and of seeing woods, not trees, runs all the way through "Honesty". Diversity is seen as the correct response to the Christian message, and so is the thoughtfulness that Shanks says springs from "true liturgy", defined as doing "justice to the element of mystery in the gospel" and contrasted with propaganda which "does not try to encourage thoughtfulness, but only to modify behaviour".
This essay, though firmly rooted in the challenges thrown up by the New Testament, is surely some distance away from an evangelical approach. Instead, it could not be more ecumenical: "I am now, and will always remain, quite unconditionally and with no exceptions, in full communion with all those who have been baptized." On the current hot-button issue, "the ethical status of homosexuality, my stand is as intransigent as anyone's: I regard self-righteous Christian hostility towards gay people as a quite blasphemous evil."
This is strong stuff, though Shanks stops here and does not discuss the question of whether a distinction should be made between practising homosexuals and those who remain celibate. But he does dismiss, as a short-term accommodation, St Paul's appeal in 1 Corinthians 5 for the expulsion of those guilty of sexual deviancy: "God's truth is like a rocket that has been shedding different stages as it goes." These different ways of reading the scriptures - more literal versus more willing to look at the broader significance and context -- Shanks tell us, were reflected in the two sides on the debate on the abolition of slavery two centuries ago, and he draws parallels between that campaign and what he terms the public conscience movements of today, which he see as struggles for honesty.
Shanks declares himself an intellectual and a theologian, and frets that as such he is little respected. However, the public conscience movements he identifies as profoundly Christian do have a hold on people in England today, and thus do provide a way in for priestly presence. Through a firmer and more overt involvement with such issues as housing and inequality the Church can (to paraphrase St Benedict) proclaim God through its life. What remains to be seen is the extent to which such an example will spread the gospel, especially as moral issues tend to divide the faithful as much as the general population; slavers were Christians, too.
Again, this is a cogent and powerful essay, though many if not most Christian thinkers will feel that it goes too far too fast. The view of the Church's history focuses on a handful of admittedly shameful events, while blithely disregarding its achievements in spreading the gospel and ministering to the faithful over two millennia. There need to be structures and traditions, familiar anchoring-points for the faithful; we can't all sit around striving endlessly for honesty or praying about the meaning of things that took place 817 years ago. Liturgy cannot just be about pointing to the mystical element in the gospel; the average woman or man in the pew wants a pattern of worship that reflects centuries of faith with a reassuring degree of certainty.
Liturgy
It is on this question of liturgy that the essays in "Praying for England" have a striking near-unanimity. Only once in this collection (on page 94-6 in Edmund Newey's "Presence") is there explicit support for the authorised forms of service set out in Common Worship or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. They seem to be either an irrelevance or an embarrassment to the writers.
But the epilogue by Rowan Williams issues a warning to those tempted to think these familiar services are of no future value. Is priesthood just about taking services? he wonders. "If they don't do this," says the Church's foremost prelate, "they are not doing what they are asked to do," and he does on to specify that he refers to the duty to say the daily offices; other forms of liturgy are clearly essential, but not obligatory. As in other fields, Archbishop Rowan (in some ways quite a radical and often openly sympathetic to radical viewpoints) is cautioning against too rapid and too hasty an abandonment of standpoints that just may be what ultimately hold the Church together.
Conclusion
But this is still a Church with few real prescriptions as to how priesthood should be conducted day-to-day. These essays provide a series of hopeful and imaginative insights not only into what the Church and its ministry should be about, and such insights are essential tools in the struggle for relevance and for traction on the problems of bringing the gospel and strengthening discipleship in contemporary society. Living in obscurity, yes; living in intellectual poverty, no.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Life Outside The Vicarge Walls, 15 Feb. 2009
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
For those who feel that the Christian priest has no place in today's increasingly secular age, this book offers an insight into their work that will challenge that view. The book is essentailly a collection of essays by priests working in todays Anglican church. These essays tell the stories of their work,sharing in peoples joy and pain. At times it is a difficult and compelling read. Sadly some of the essays seem to get a little lost in personal intraspection, detracting from others that offer the reader a genuine insight into the world of the priest ouside the vicarge.
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4.0 out of 5 stars interesting book, 30 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book though I'm not sure that the title is appropriate. It is unfortunate that the pages were cut very badly which made it look cheap - good job it was for me and not a present
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 4 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
Great read
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Title Misleading, 20 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (Paperback)
If you are thinking that this is going to give you tips on prayer, its not. It is just a bunch of stories from different parishes. Yes they make you realise how difficult some things are for people and make you want to pray, but it doesn't give any tips.
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Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture
Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture by Samuel Wells (Paperback - 10 Jun. 2008)
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