by Douglas Holt
from Signs of the Times No. 66 - Jul 2017

Have you ever had a session with your chiropractor, after a few weeks/months of ignoring him/her? It isn’t easy!

You want to be there - no question, and you don’t want to be there. That’s almost good enough to be a theological conundrum!

Going back to the chiropractor was, for me, a bit like picking up this book. I wanted to read something meaningful, thoughtful, inspiring and uplifting on the day to day role of the parish priest in the parish of today. At the same time, I didn’t want to read a book called a manual! Nor did I want to follow the random alphabet through a load of unconnected musings. So, there it is, my complaints out in the open at the very beginning.

So, if you have read this far, let’s get down to a serious engagement with the form and content of this book. Well, actually, let me, if I may, declare right now that I found it more meaningful, thoughtful, inspiring and uplifting than about 99% of the books I have read on the faith outworked in the living beings who fill pews week in week out in our parish churches.

The stories and reflections moved and challenged me. There was zero triumphalism but quite a bit of triumph here and there. People were loved, as someone said to me once, into the kingdom. Death was faced, cried over, survived and transfigured. The parish priest became a subversive traditionalist,

‘turning history on its head and bringing the story of salvation into the immediate present as a crossroads between the things of God and the things of man’.

This coheres with my own long-held view of the priest as essentially a time-traveller, going back and forward, and touching the here and now on every journey.

So, what might you write about under the letter ‘Q’? Mayo offers some thoughts on the quota, a common purse shared around a diocese. Here’s the story at the chapter end:

‘The PCC draw my attention to the extra 4% that the diocese asks the church to contribute. This could be money spent on outreach projects in the parish. After a long discussion the PCC suggests that, instead of reluctantly agreeing to the extra 4%, we should cheerfully offer an extra 10%. I am amazed at their generosity. It is an important moment for the church’.

The brief chapter thus ends, as they all do, with such reflection or story-telling. They are all worth reading.

So, we have vivid narratives from parish life, considered theological reflection on that corporate life, and a bit of philosophy and worldview analysis. Some comes at the end, under the title of Zeitgeist, of course! Which is just what most of us would have chosen for a chapter under the letter ‘Z’, is it not?

‘The Church has been an agent of her own marginalization in wanting to frame the discussion about Christianity in a manner consistent with a free market rationale of individualism and choice. In a desire for people to be able to respond to the gospel in terms of their own understanding, the Church has been happy to talk about the faith as values rather than truth, and as choices rather than story’.

Mayo’s decision to follow the alphabet may reflect a kind of order out of chaos which reminds me of Genesis and much else in Holy Scripture. Either a very smart move, or merely a happy accident. Or perhaps both. Whichever, it means that Bob Mayo has written a golden book, an illuminated manuscript, lovingly prepared and delicately presented, and offering a more winning way into the good news of the Kingdom than almost anything else I have read.

At last a pastor and teacher, an Anglican priest, who can counter the Renaissance thought of Pico della Mirandola, famous for his thought that people created themselves. No, we cannot, but we can and must mould what we are together, not as individuals, to become the beloved people of God we long to be, and whom God wants us to be. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

P.S.  It’s a prayer book too!

Douglas Holt is a former Training Officer in the Diocese of Bristol. He is now part-time Priest in charge of St John the Baptist Hove.