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The pastor’s work

18 October 2013

Edward Dowler is glad to see it given priority

Holy matrimony: the cover photo from Anglican Marriage Rites: A symposium (Joint Liturgical Studies 71), edited by the late Kenneth Stevenson, who sets the scene. Thomas Cooper looks at asking God's blessing on consenting adults; and Phillip Tovey considers emerging models of blessing, marriage theology, and inculturation in Anglican weddings (Alcuin Club/GROW, £6.95 (£6.25); 978-1-84825-074-1)

Holy matrimony: the cover photo from Anglican Marriage Rites: A symposium (Joint Liturgical Studies 71), edited by the late Kenneth Stevenson, who s...

Pastoral Theology (SCM Studyguide)
Margaret Whipp
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT577 )

I HAD a mini crisis when I was appointed as Director of Pastoral Theology at a theological college, because I discovered that I didn't really believe that the subject existed. For sure, all theology must be pastoral - since what is the point in any of it if Christ's sheep are not fed? But is it actually a subject in itself, especially when its advocates tend to be po-faced theorists working far away from any pastoral setting?

I am thus not entirely sure whether this subject is suitable material for a "studyguide". Assuming, however, that the subject actually does exist, Margaret Whipp, herself a very hands-on pastor (a hospital chaplain in Oxford), has done a good job of constructing a syllabus for it.

In the first half of the book, "The call to be human", she offers a theological account of human flourishing, including reflection on change, desire, and fragility.

In the second half, "The call to care", she examines specific aspects of pastoral work, such as the art of pastoral conversation, issues of power and authority, and the importance of being alert to particular moments.

The book contains some helpful introductions to important thinkers in the social sciences, such as those of Erik Erikson on the life cycle or James Fowler on stages of faith. I was glad to see that the dreaded "pastoral cycle" has been banished from the syllabus, although the "U-curve" diagram (on loss, rites of passage, and pastoral moments) seems to have replaced it.

I was also glad that Whipp implicitly resists the rather spooky suggestion that leadership in the Church should now be moving from a "pastoral" to a "missional" mode, as if Jesus's promise of life in all its fullness or his command to feed his sheep should now be abandoned in the face of more urgent priorities.

Just a few minor niggles: the index looks like a computer-generated word list. For example, when I checked back to see what the author had said about sin, virtue, and conversion, I found a string of references, but no substantive treatment of any of them.

I was sorry that Whipp appears to endorse "the caricature of the ineffective parson of yesteryear, who whiled away his afternoons taking tea with parishioners because he had nothing better to do": what better thing might he have been doing? Writing a Mission Action Plan?

I also think she is unfair to St Augustine, unfavourably contrasting his supposed rejection of the importance of desire with St Gregory of Nyssa, who, in fact, held the rather extreme view that we could most easily conquer the cycle of death by ceasing to procreate.

Besides serving as a standard textbook for those specifically preparing for pastoral ministry, the book could be used by a parish or deanery group who wish to explore pastoral ministry under an enthusiastic and informed guide.

The Revd Dr Edward Dowler is Vicar of Clay Hill in the diocese of London.

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