by Geoff Miller
from Signs of the Times No. 72 - Jan 2019
To be brutally honest, Everett’s short book would not have been one that I would likely have purchased coming across it on a bookshop shelf.
Not because I would think it was unimportant or offer a valuable contribution. Rather, I confess to thinking more probably that it was too early to be written, or too focussed on a cruel event well off my limits, or perhaps its contents too gruesome to meditate upon.
How wrong could I be?
There is a sense that this is a book that is raw, painful, occasionally simmering with anger, full of profound questions and unashamedly unfinished…
‘In the end, no one person is capable of ‘finding words for Grenfell’, and yet attempts must be made…’ (p.133)
Yet I found such a ‘bearing witness’ not only of immense value but profoundly moving in its immediacy; and such struggling to find words (no matter how fragile or perhaps unsatisfactory) an honourable task of which I was grateful to be given the privilege to encounter.
Yet there is much, much more here.
Everett’s notes are an encounter with the pastoral cycle in action - a model of reflective practice that we could all learn from and of which I fear there is a dearth of practice among contemporary clergy at the coal face (or at least a fear to put pen to paper). This alone makes it a courageous and timely contribution.
His reflections are riddled with insights earned in the milieu of tragedy that take many of us a lifetime to glimpse, even a little:
‘We had to be careful to ensure that we spoke only of what we knew’ (p.30);
- the desire to help and the difficulty of co-ordinating and facilitating help that is worthwhile;
- the systemic collapse and the complexity of community;
- creating and sustaining a virtuous circle of trust; working in partnership and sometimes obscurity;
- about when to open the doors wide and when they sometimes need to be closed…
I could go on.
Everett digs deeper and wider as he uses his terrible experience to apply his theology and grapple with his spirituality and in doing so invites us to journey with him. At its heart his reflection is about the nitty gritty of authentic incarnational ministry, the hard-earned credibility of contextual ministry and mission worked at over generations. This learning is offered to the wider church at a time when such local and rooted ministry can feel undervalued. He concludes:
‘This book has sought to offer a stress-tested rationale for parish ministry’. (p.125)
(And I say a sincere ‘thank you’ and ‘hallelujah’).
I have to say that I wasn’t expecting all this but my read felt like pure gift in a week of hard pressed but much more mundane ministry. This is a gem of a book, bravely written from precious ‘dust on the lips.’
The Ven Geoff Miller is Archdeacon of Northumberland.