Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Review: Managing Clergy Lives

Before reading you might wonder, why is an Orthodox priest reading a book about Anglican clergy in England? The simple answer is that despite the various differences among Christians across the world there is much that we can learn from one another, especially clergy. When I saw this book I knew that I had to read it.

Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, and Intimacy (NY: Bloomsbury, 2013)  is a fascinating read. It is based on a study that was done by Nigel Peyton and Caroline Gatrell. Peyton is the Bishop of Brechin in the Scottish Episcopal Church and Gatrell is a senior lecturer within the Lancaster University Management School. Both of these authors are more than trained to produce such a thought provoking book for ministers like me who are struggling to find our way in the long walk of faith.

Ministry is not easy whether here in the United States or in England. Parishes and missions are closing, finances are drying up, and for the most part we are living in a post Christian culture and as one interviewed priest in the book said it best when he said that the Church is no longer necessary for most folks. So true!

Managing Clergy Lives is divided into six chapters:

In Search of Priesthood
Describing Clergy Lives
Obedient Clergy Bodies
The Sacrifice of Embrace 
Lost Intimacies
Clergy Authenticity 

I found each one of these sections intriguing an caught myself underlining key passages on nearly every page. While reading this book I didn't feel alone anymore, I felt connected with a large community of clergy, just like me who struggle every day with their parish, with their families, with their faith. Managing Clergy Lives includes research based on interviews with fifty rural clergy deans in the UK which of course is a rather small sampling yet at the same time gives us a glimpse into their lives. This book is not just a bunch of numbers and statistics but includes long samples from their interviews too. They interviewed men and women, married, divorced, and single.

These interviews paint a bleak picture for many clergy. Clergy who live in older and run down parish rectories, parishes which are losing both income and members, and the lack of hope for some clergy who are dealing with reduced pensions. These clergy give their lives for their vocation and the challenges are so great. Yet they manage to forge ahead.

Clergy live at the intersection between the Church and the world, between the sacred and the secular, this world and the world to come. Managing Clergy Lives reveals all of the doubts and desires of these clergy yet ends with a message of hope. On the last page the sub-title is "Belonging, Believing, and Becoming." Wow! It's true. Even though we all have doubts about our own faith and the faith of the Church, why bishops act the way they do or why we lack strong leadership we still forge ahead. We still continue to preach the gospel, to baptize, and to marry. We still hear confessions and perform weddings and bury the dead. We console and comfort, we admonish and rebuke. And we do this every day; Advent, Lent, and Ordinary time.

I hope that Managing Clergy Lives is required reading in Anglican seminaries because it provides much food for thought for both the present Church and the future Church as well. Newly ordained clergy will face many challenges but they must realize that they cannot do it alone, Managing Clergy Lives will be a handy resource for the years to come.

For more information about Managing Clergy Lives click here