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Title-parish tribulations

16 October 2015

Robert Mackley reads the experts’ advice

Curacies and How to Survive Them
Mathew Caminer with Martyn Percy and Beaumont Stevenson
SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 


TO FORM a priest properly is expensive. It rightly costs a lot of money and a lot of time, energy, and skill, too. Yet an alarming proportion of curacies go wrong. If I look at those of my contemporaries who are either no longer in parochial ministry or even no longer in ministry at all, a majority of them had a bad experience as curates. The first position post-ordination is crucial, therefore, not only for the Church’s getting her money’s worth, but for giving a good foundation for a long and fulfilling ministry for new priests.

This book takes the form of conversations between the three authors about eight scenarios (given a chapter each) gleaned from their research into, and experience of, training curacies. The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Martyn Percy, was previously Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon; Beau Stevenson is a priest and psychologist; and Matthew Caminer is a management consultant. Among the scenarios described we find the bullying incumbent, the nightmare curate, the rigid training system into which everyone must squeeze, the curate who wants to be everyone’s best friend, the all-demanding parishioner, and more.

We should be clear what this book isn’t: a spiritual work on praying through difficult curacies or a theological meditation on priestly ministry or ecclesiology. Occasionally, I wished it was just a little more of these things: it was not that God was neglected, or that alien, secular work concepts were mindlessly applied to ecclesial situations; rather, that the focus was primarily on the practical management of personal relationships, largely that of the assistant curate and the parish priest.

This point aside, however, it was full of wisdom. Neither a curate nor an incumbent reading it would feel it unbalanced. As a training incumbent, I found it very helpful. If it could be summarised, the book urges clergy to realism and forbearance. It is pleasingly realistic about human beings, and doesn’t pathologise every human character trait or eccentricity. Percy and Stevenson don’t always give ground to the management points made by Caminer, and Caminer plays the part of the questioning outsider well. Stevenson is strong on making the most of unpromising situations. Percy is honest about the reality of diocesan systems and curate placement. It is deeply practical.

The Church of England desperately needs more priests, and cannot afford to lose as many as she does post-curacy. If bishops, priests, and ordinands took this book to heart, we would have made an important step on the road to sustainable ministry.


The Revd Robert Mackley is the Vicar of Little St Mary’s, Cambridge.

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