Being a Curate: Stories of what it's really
Jonathon Ross-McNairn and Sonia Barron,
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 (Use code
Steel Angels: The personal qualities of a
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code
THERE is a joke in our house: What do Anglicans do when someone
asks them a question? Give that person a book. Certainly that was
close to the truth when I served as a director of ordinands. More
often than not, literature would be dispensed or recommended to get
candidates to think more deeply about some aspect of themselves or
Those seeking to discern a vocation to the sacred ministry have
a wide range to draw on. Some books stand out from the pack:
Michael Ramsey's The Christian Priest Today has never lost
its classic status; more recently, The Life and Work of a
Priest by John Pritchard has joined it. Others strive to reach
the gold standard.
Being a Curate and Steel Angels are two of the
latest releases from SPCK aimed at the vocations market, and each
has elements to recommend it.
Being a Curate is a collection of short essays in which
individuals reflect on various aspects of their time in the run-up
to, or in post after, ordination. One contributor looks back on
training; a former principal looks down the other end of the
telescope; a bishop writes of the week that ends in the laying on
of hands; and a college tutor writes about when curacies go
But it is, for the most part, the personal recounting of
stories, from the mundane to the extreme - Bruce Goodwin recalls
the murder of his training incumbent - of first steps in public
ministry. There is inevitably a lot of "I" in these accounts, and
the quality of reflection, from the banal to the pompous, and much
in between, may be a result of that.
One peculiarity is the nature of the closing contributions from
the editors: Jonathan Ross-McNairn, who has penned a rationale of
what has gone before, which might have been more appropriately
placed as an introduction; and Sonia Barron, whose canvassing of
practical issues draws on preceding parts of the book.
Its diversity - though there is something of a preponderance of
contributors from the Gloucester diocese - commends the book. No
one angle dominates. Readers do get an idea, as the subtitle
suggests, of "what it's really like".
Steel Angels by Magdalen Smith is an excellent
contribution to the discernment canon. Drawing on the nine criteria
for selection for ministry in the Church of England, Smith, a
director of ordinands in the Chester diocese, takes the reader on
an entertaining journey that combines the practical with the
theological, anecdotal, and startling.
The title evokes Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North,
and it is an apt metaphor for clerical life. The clergy are called
to be deeply grounded, have a wide span of insight and experience,
and be someone worthy of looking up to, but be able to remain
firmly in place, whatever the conditions.
Smith uses a range of techniques to look at the spiritual,
emotional, pastoral, and administrative aspects of the life and
work of a priest. Drawing on appropriate personal experience,
church politics, art, and the Bible, her beautifully written book
offers many delights. Her capacity for taking the mundane and
finding an illuminating illustration from scripture, literature,
the visual arts, or popular culture ensures that there is no
dryness of approach.
I have two quibbles: while the subtitle of the book is The
personal qualities of a priest, more often the text speaks of
"leaders", reflecting the changing managerial and Evangelical view
of the clergy; and some passages are heavily peppered with the word
"folk", arguably another tribal usage.
Notwithstanding those reservations - and they are tiny - those
setting out on the discernment journey, and many who have been
serving as priests for short or long periods, will find Steel
Angels an engaging and stimulating read.
The Revd Kevin Scully is the Rector of St Matthew's, Bethnal
Green, in east London.