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Curate with a reporter’s nose    

by
25 November 2016

Jennie Hogan on the questioning author of an ordination diary

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Becoming Reverend: A diary
Matt Woodcock
Church House Publishing £9.99
(978-1-7814-0010-4)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

 

PERHAPS it should become mandatory for Christians training for priesthood to keep a diary, from the arrival at the Bishops’ Advisory Panel to the moment the collar is in place and the hands are laid on at the cathedral. It would not be for the bishops’, or directors of ordinands’, eyes — rather, it could create a valuable record of the terror, excitement, despondency, frustrations, and joys of theological training.

Matt Woodcock’s diary entries chart his own adventures through training with verve, charm, and excoriating honesty (Feature, 11 November). His Yorkshire roots enable endless self-effacing and sometimes raucous humour. Further, his journalistic background ensures dynamic and pithy accounts of his days and late nights at Cranmer Hall, in council estates on placements and silent retreats, in lecture halls, and many more places. Tireless questioning of the status quo and interrogation of traditions runs throughout his personal observations.

The finger is most often pointed at himself, however. His reflections are, in many respects, confessions. In his reports, he pinpoints short­comings, naïve presumptions, and unfounded judgements. The hopeful and buoyant believer who entered residential training exits Durham for a curacy in Hull a humbled and yet unfailingly hopeful servant.

Energy abounds, which may fatigue those who are a little long in the tooth. His tireless enthusiasm may be a shot in the arm for others. This diary will undoubtedly spark memories for readers who once were ordinands.

Woodcock is inarguably bold, and very frank. At first, his tongue bleeds with all the biting. And yet some may still find that he gives us too much information. It is very blokey, but not macho; his observations on male friendship are poignant, sensitive, and original. Pondering his essay on male spirituality, he writes: “Blokes fascinate me. We are complex creatures.”

Reading about his struggles between maintaining his identity while developing deeper insights into his place within the Kingdom of God may enlighten us all. There is no doubt that his extrovert, gift-of-the-gab wit sets him at odds with the introverted and southern-England-obsessed Church of England.

There is an additional drama to this already tale of transformation. Woodcock and his wife, Anna, have been unable to conceive children. He writes tenderly about his love, and openly about their joint heartbreak. When twins arrive, we see him struggling to negotiate another mysterious identity: fatherhood.

Becoming Reverend offers incontrovertible evidence of the importance of residential training and the necessity of priestly formation. The dénouement to two years spent in training is, of course, the ordination. His own account of it is fused at once with the roar of enthusiasm, and the hope-filled wonder that pervades every diary entry.

”A few years ago I promised God I’d push every door he told me to. It’s led me to this. I am the Reverend Matt Woodcock. Lord help us all.”

 

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain at Goodenough College and Assistant Priest at St Giles’s, Cripplegate, in London.

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