by Bill Cave
from Signs of the Times No. 71 - Oct 2018
Action! A Cleric Off the Leash is a self-published autobiography available on the internet. This review has one purpose: to make you buy it!
Once bought, the book should be read; then its wisdom should invade your life.
Hodgetts is a prime example of the breed of clergy, like the reviewer, whose ministry has been spent outside the institutional structures of the Church of England. His full biography is on the internet. The clue to the author and his book is on the cover - not its title, but its picture: Sower with Setting Sun, by Van Gogh. Hodgetts writes:
I would like to lay out… my values by exploring one of Van Gogh’s works of art. By the side of my computer is The Sower with Setting Sun. It is my ikon. It tells a story, a significant story, a sacred story, my story. Each element in the picture is a symbol: each stands for something other than itself. We are not faced with just a sun, or just a tree, or just a man sowing but with something much more profound. (Hodgetts 2016:11)
As a living parable Hodgetts not only used the Sower-image as his rule of life, but also to explain that life to others.
Hodgetts was born on Jersey in early 1940, two months before the Channel Islands were occupied by German forces. On moving to Guernsey, Church and music were added to his education and spiritual formation, leading to training at Ripon Hall, Cuddesdon; he was ordained in the mid-1960s and served in a parish in Hackney.
The young clergyman soon learned how to slip the institutional leash of church ministry, and his work as a sower of spiritual seeds began to flourish. What follows is a series of compelling accounts of successive fields episodes in which Hodgetts expressed his ministry; East End curate, educationalist in South London, Christian activist and warden for the Othona community in Essex.
In 1983 Hodgetts was invited by Satish Kumar, better known for the periodical Resurgence, to take over an alternative secondary school at Hartland in Devon, where he was also the vicar from 2003 to 2007. Here he not only developed ideas, but saw them flourish in the developing lives of others.
Action! A cleric off the leash is not just the autobiography of an atypical clergyman; nor is it just an account of 1960s-1980s peace movement campaigns, of which the book is, undoubtedly, an important record. It is also a record of the flourishing and practical application of Hodgetts’ spiritual insights.
The author’s sources of inspiration were his early years in the occupied Channel Islands, developed through his readiness to accept and practice insights on the basis of inherent wisdom, not confessional where those insights challenge us to transcend our limitations and to live according to the Gospel - and to look for God in other people’s eyes.
Hodgetts refers to Eastern Spiritualities, philosophers and theologians, literature and music to an equal extent with mainline scriptures; and a life shared with others, young people, those broken and vulnerable, and of different background and cultural tradition.
This book is invaluable - buy it, read it, live it! And give thanks for Hodgetts and his remarkable seed-sowing ministry.
Bill Cave is a former university and prison chaplain now working with Wiltshire Police.