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Wisdom, acuity, and humour

10 August 2010

Mayne was a prince among preachers, says Martyn Percy


To Trust and to Love: Sermons and addresses
Michael Mayne, author
Joel W. Huffstetler, editor
DLT £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

JOEL HUFFSTETLER, who wrote the recent and acclaimed critical study of Michael Mayne’s writings Gratitude and Grace, has produced a remarkable book that brings to light previously unpublished sermons and talks from the former Vicar of Great St Mary’s, Cambridge, and Dean of Westminster Abbey.

Mayne had also been Head of BBC Radio Religious Programmes, and this partly accounts for the sure touch of a skilled communicator which we find in his homilies — a delicate blend of wisdom, empathy, spiritual illumination, and gentle humour. Mayne was one of the most gifted preachers to have emerged in recent times: a veritable master of crafting sermons. Al­though a humble and self-effacing preacher, he rightly inspired a considerable following.

The first part of the book follows the Christian year, with exquisite sermons from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, before taking the reader through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, and on to Ascension, Pentecost, and beyond. Each of these homilies is carefully crafted, sparkling with wisdom and acuity.

The second part of the book con­sists of sermons for various oc­casions, including an outstanding meditation on the virtue of toler­ance and its place in the life of Anglican polity. Two of the most moving sermons, however, engage with his father’s suicide. Mayne’s father had been Vicar of Harlestone, but took his own life at the church in 1933. In those days, a person who committed suicide was not normally allowed a Christian burial, and Mayne’s father was no exception. The sermon that his son preached at Harlestone in 1991 has a depth and a poignancy that is both haunting and holy.

One of the marks of a great preacher is the ability to bring the liveliness of the scriptures to bear on the breadth and depth of the human condition, as well as con­veying rich and complex ideas in simple ways. Mayne was an exem-p­lary exponent of this art, and these homilies glisten with illuminating insights.

Collections of sermons and ad­dresses do not always stand the test

of time. Yet Mayne’s sermons are as fresh today as when first preached. This is an exquisite volume, brim­ming with vibrant, illuminating, and moving talks that will inspire and challenge in equal measure. Huffstetler has skilfully excavated the homilies of a much loved priest, preacher, and pastor; and we are indebted to him for bringing these treasures to light.

Canon Professor Martyn Percy is Principal of Ripon College, Cuddes­don, and the Oxford Ministry Course.

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