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Book reviews >

Shaping their ends

What forms young people on their way to adulthood? Jenny Francis finds out

Called by Mind and Spirit: Crossing the borderlands of childhood
Gavin Knight and Joanna Knight

Mowbray £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

GAVIN and Joanna Knight, a husband-and-wife team of priest and clinical psychologist, have again produced a book drawn on, and inspired by, where they live, where Gavin works, and where, as a family, they have their being.

Their concept of inhabiting a borderland area is illustrated by their life in the Welsh Borders, dealing with young people journeying through the borderlands of childhood and adolescence, and towards adulthood. The Knights are simultaneously rearing their own three children.

Their aim is to stir up in the wider Church a greater respect for children, and to find better ways of including them and allowing their voices to be heard, as the Church accepts the challenge of welcoming young people and drawing them into a genuine partnership.

To be rooted in community, the authors conclude, is the key to success, as it permits healthy dialogue within our contemporary society.

As with an earlier study, the authors rely on a clear but multilayered structure to express their ideas and discoveries. After the first main section, “Who do we Think we Are”, in which they each look back to the experiences and events that shaped their lives, they move on to consider how identity is formed, how early childhood is shaped, and how adolescence is accepted as the crucial stage on the journey towards adulthood which it is.

Each developmental stage is linked with a parallel sacramental rite — baptism, con­firma­tion, and ordination — and is seen in appropriate theological terms: identity, formation, and vocation.

The priest’s contribution comes first, and then the psychological perspective, which culminates in a short, cogent conclusion: “Integrating Mind and Spirit”. Quotations from the commission in the relevant rite (Common Worship) serve to root readers’ thoughts, and to point to ways in which we may better engage with children and young people at each stage.

As Joanna Knight says in her introduction, childhood is “multi-layered”. So, too, is the structure. Sometimes its logic helps, but at other times it tends to confuse, requiring the reader to hold several trains of thought in tension simultaneously.

The whole is, however, a most valuable contribution to current discussions on work with children, not least at a time when some parish churches are burgeoning with young families and their offspring, while others are severely depleted and have little idea how, or even any desire, to remedy the situation.

The reflective poems at the start of each section, and the thoughtful final epilogue add to the whole, as does a very useful bibliography.

Essentially, the sensitive interplay between psychology and practical theology is refreshing. The Knights should be congratulated on their imaginative and courageous contribution to this vital debate, a subject on which the future of our Church rests.

The Revd Jenny Francis is Assistant Curate of Stow-on-the-Wold, Condicote and The Swells.

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