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Can’t beat a retreat

04 April 2014

Sarah Hillman finds Adrian Plass still keeping his diary

The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the church weekend
Adrian Plass
Hodder & Stoughton £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT706 )

THE first Sacred Diary was published in 1987, and Adrian Plass has continued to entertain his readers since then with humour, pathos, and deep reflections on the Christian life and how to live in our world of joy and pain. He has done this through a variety of different types of book: novel, biography, non-fiction, short story, and mixed collections of poems and short pieces of prose.

In his latest offering, he has returned to diary mode. Some of the original characters still appear, many of them too outrageous to be believable, but with traits that we would all recognise. His caricatures, though far-fetched, have some familiar elements that anyone who has lived and moved in Christian circles will recognise with alacrity.

As the title of the book implies, Adrian's church is going on a weekend away. Somehow, in spite of not volunteering for the position enthusiastically, Adrian has ended up as group leader. His son, Gerald, who was usually one step ahead of his father in earlier years, is now a vicar, with his own parish. His congregation is going to join the trip, too.

Their destination is Scarleeswanvale Deep Peace Retreat Centre. Readers who know Lee Abbey and Scargill House well will immediately spot the sources of some of Plass's ideas.

As the weekend progresses, all sorts of troubles befall them. There is the couple who haven't managed to get on top of how their sat-nav works, and who arrive at Scarleeswanvale as everyone else is ready to return home. There is the community member who ends up very upset because of a language issue (bustard and bastard are easy to confuse), and the warden who is somewhat out of control and treats his community in a less-than-helpful way.

Humour is a subjective thing. I didn't laugh out loud, but I did find myself smiling wryly at times. Plass's greatest gift, in my opinion, is to weave the serious in with his playfulness in a way that doesn't seem forced, and can be quite profound. In the midst of the inanity and hilarity, there is mention of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Julian of Norwich, a worrying medical diagnosis, and the presence of Father John, who challenges the pomposity of some Christians with his simple way of looking at things.

The Revd Sarah Hillman is Priest-in-Charge of Puddletown, Tolpuddle, and Milborne with Dewlish, in Dorset.

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