Parish Priests: For the sake of the Kingdom
SPCK £14.99 (978-0-281-05538-8)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50
THE Church needs to rethink its understanding of parish priests. We must move away from the traditional concept of priest as a lone service-provider and parishioners as passive recipients. The role of the clergy is, rather, to stimulate and support the ministry of the whole Church.
So says Robin Greenwood, author of Transforming Priesthood and Practising Community; and this new book extends and reinforces the thesis of the earlier works. In dialogue with John Zizioulas, Miroslav Volf, and a range of feminist and eco-theologians, Greenwood wants to redefine the essence of Church and priesthood along a relational, Trinitarian model.
Specifically, he explores the metaphor of episcope, not as hierarchical oversight of one person over others, but as a calling of the whole Church. He also explores the image of priest as navigator, in conversation with the post-modern missiologist Leonard Sweet and recent management theorists.
Along the way, he has quotable quotes of his own that bear further pondering: tradition is the rediscovery of how to be church in ever new places; society needs a Church committed less to its own survival than being a navigator of hope.
So far, so good. Ultimately, though, this proves a rather unsatisfying book. Greenwood doesn’t so much develop his metaphors as amble around them, admiring the same view repeatedly. Sometimes metaphor is piled upon metaphor, to the point where they all collapse under their own weight: “Refracting the irregular rhythms of the Trinity, a learning Church will have the humility to let go of all the structures and behaviours that are too bulky to pass through the eye of a needle.”
Sometimes the metaphors are not only mixed but slightly bizarre: God is a “vibrating mystery”; leaders should stay “on the cusp where God the Father continually breathes out new and vibrating possibilities”.
Towards the end of the book, Greenwood promises concrete examples of how his models of ministry have played out in his own parish of Monkseaton. I could find only three: asking church members to stand around a nave altar to receive holy communion, setting up a “year of spiritual growth” group, and inviting people to use their talents in church. After all the theology of relation, navigation, and vibration, I had expected something a little more radical.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Vicar of Holy Trinity, Twickenham.
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