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Following Jesus on Monday morning

30 August 2013

Peter McGeary looks at a bishop's ideas on Christian discipleship

Living Faithfully: Following Christ in everyday life
John Pritchard
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I WONDER about the Bishop of Oxford. While most of us were watching (or trying not to watch) the Olympics last year, he was writing yet another book.

We should be grateful. John Pritchard's bibliography is an interesting one. He has written material that is useful both for those who know their church (intercessions handbooks) and those who are not so familiar with what goes on. He has written one of the few modern books about being a priest today. His style is easy, readable, and funny. Important things are wrapped in digestible prose.

In this new volume, Pritchard addresses the old question what it really means to be a Christian when it is not Sunday, one is not in church, and one is not necessarily in the company of other like-minded persons. In other words, how can one begin to be a faithful Christian in today's world?

All too often, the focus of so much church life is on the Church rather than the world that it is meant to love, serve, and transform. Centuries of drawing too much of a distinction between the sacred and the secular have taken their toll. Too much discourse in our churches is directed towards the edification or improvement of the individual, or is over-concerned with the individual's relationship with Christ ("vertical Christianity"). Too much talk about "lay ministry" is actually about getting lay people to do more churchy things; too much talk about "mission" is about getting more people to come to church.

Pritchard will have none of this. Churches should grow, and jobs need doing - of course they do. But none of this will be authentic if it is not grounded in the lives and actions of men and women who really feel that what they say they believe in makes a difference to them every day of the week.

Pritchard starts at the beginning, with our relationship with God, and our need to accept God's grace. Stage two is about accepting ourselves and our need to rely on that grace in all things. He then examines how we might face the world with the eyes of faith (questions of peace and justice, economics and work), how our faith might affect our relationships with others, near and far, and, finally, how we might face the future without fear or worry, but, rather, hope.

Each of the short chapters has a similar structure. After an introduction to the "problem", the reader is invited to think more deeply, and then consider different approaches that a Christian might take: "what might we do differently?" in Pritchard's words. Each chapter is rounded off with quotes, a Bible passage, and questions for individual or group consideration.

This book, although written in an easy style, does not offer any easy answers, and rightly so. The reader is properly left to work out what the questions raised might mean in his or her context. What does it mean to follow Christ in your everyday life? Working out the answer is what we might call "theology".

The Revd Peter McGeary is Vicar of St Mary's, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.

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