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Liturgical rethinker

29 May 2012

John Inge considers a Festschrift for a priest


The Art of Tentmaking: Making space for worship
Stephen Burns, editor

Canterbury Press £35
Church Times Bookshop £31.50

ANYTHING written in honour of Richard Giles, which this book is, would need to be challenging, pastorally sensitive, godly, and intelligent, if it was going to do him justice. Fortunately, this book — by parts — is all of these. The title alludes not only to St Paul, but also to Richard himself, who, for some years, made his living as a town planner. He is an unusual priest, to put it mildly.

Stephen Burns is based in Sydney, and has assembled an impressive range of contributors from England, the United States, and Australia. Richard Vosko gives us an interest­ing “weather forecast” on architec­ture for worship. Martyn Percy writes perceptively on the import­ance of sacred spaces to the well-being of society. Dirk Lange and Melinda Quivik give us some pro­found reflections on daily prayer and rites of passage respec­tively.

Rosalind Brown’s helpful con­tribution on liturgy in a cathedral includes the only questioning of one of Richard Giles’s innovations I found in the book — the passing around of the stole during the eucharist — believing it to be fussy. Carol Doran writes perceptively about the im­portance of music as an expression of the sacred, and includes a fas­cinating quote from Richard himself: “I have in recent years come to see liturgical music as the single most important com­ponent of liturgical renewal (even more im­portant that the space itself).”

Bishop Steven Croft pleads persuasively with Evangelicals to recognise the gift of liturgy. Burns’s own insightful contribution, with Gerald Moore, suffers from de­scribing buildings with words when a few pictures would have done the job so much better. The same is true of Rod Pattenden’s piece, “Seeing God in an Age of Visuality”, though there are a couple of photographs to redeem it.

Richard Fabian argues for the inclusivity of an “open table” policy for communion: there is a very big question to be faced here that has hardly surfaced in England yet, but I felt that, in accusing others who oppose this policy of being exclud­ing, he comes across as just a touch self-righteous. In a characteristically excellent piece, Bishop Stephen Cottrell makes good use of what I feel is one Richard’s most impressive publications, Here I Am: Reflec­tions on the ordained life, to bring out the various inspiring aspects of the latter’s life and work.

I first met Richard when he was non-stipendiary Vicar of Willington Quay (a parish in the heart of industrial Tyneside very close to the one of which I later became the incumbent). I was impressed by his reordering of the church, but most of all by his infectious commitment to the things of God. What sticks in my mind is not the reordering of the space, but that the man who built the altar was converted to the faith by doing so.

I have been inspired by Richard’s exceptional ministry ever since, as have the authors of this volume, and give hearty thanks for it. This book engages most helpfully with that ministry.

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

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