Top critical review
Hazing as Formation
23 April 2015
I approached this book with some interest (by way of background: I am a Curate in a rural benefice, coming to the end of my Diaconal year). I was interested to see what the authors made of Curacies, and in particular, how I might make sense of the experiences I was going through (both positive and developmental) and what these might mean in the context of future ministry. In approaching this the authors use the idea of the Curacy as Adolescence: the Deacon/ Priest exploring the boundaries of what it means to be a Priest in the (safe) context of their Title Parish, a process that allows the Curate to explore the limits of the possible and to learn from their Training Incumbent how they have negotiated this same path, and come to an intellectual, theological, liturgical and ecclesiological settlement.
So far so good, one might imagine. But it quickly becomes apparent that this 'Adolescent' period is seen within the context of the parent-child conflict that is often taken as part and parcel of Adolescence, In essence, one of the key messages is that 'if it ain't hurting, it ain't working (if you aren't in some form of conflict with your Training Incumbent then something must be wrong.) Thus 'hazing' and other forms of initiation bullying are taken as the norm - conflict is expected between Curate and Incumbent, and is actually healthy, therefore we should push the former until they crack. Now I admit that that last sentence is a complete exaggeration, but the principle holds true. Many Curates would argue that conflict is not a necessary part of the Curate's experience, and is actually quite debilitating and thus to be avoided.
The second concern I have with this volume is the way in which it is structured. The initial case studies all treat the Curate as a problem, the Curate brings with them, or behaves in such a way that causes difficulties. But again this is an oversimplification, in any situation of conflict there is never a clear line between good and bad, both parties bring positive and negative forms of behaviour to the situation, however in Curacy the power relationship is such that it is the Curate who is most frequently powerless, having to negotiate with someone who holds the power of life and death over them (the Training Incumbent or Bishop). This may be to put it into stark terms, but that is the way the power relationship can feel from the inside. Therefore to treat the Curate as 'the problem' in the case studies means that what should be a safe-space for conversation over the nature of Curacy becomes yet another power dynamic, one where the Curate is put consistently on the back foot/ made to feel powerless.
That this book has been written by two long-serving (and senior) Priests and a management consultant should come as no surprise therefore, it becomes clear very early on that the two Priests have a halcyon view of what Curacies (including their own) are like, yet have no recent experience of what it means to be a Curate, or of the power relationships (and the powerless therein) that the Curate inevitably experiences. The authors do say that Curates and their Training Incumbents have been consulted throughout the writing of the text, but one gets the sense that there was no true involvement from those actually at the coal face of Curacy.
Sadly I do not feel that I can recommend this book to any of my colleagues, for the reasons cited above. A real shame and a missed opportunity.