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Look upward to the skies

by
08 July 2016

Philip Welsh considers books that offer advice to the clergy

Stewards of God’s Delight: Becoming priests of the new creation
Mark Clavier
Cascade Books £11
(978-1-4982-2543-4)

 

THIS short book began as a series of talks at an ordination retreat. Mark Clavier chooses, however, to say little about the specifics of ordained ministry, and a great deal about the world’s relationship to God, and especially to the God who makes himself known in freedom, generosity, and delight. Beginning with the goodness of creation — “one of the most shocking claims the first Christians made” — the author’s intention is “to re-enchant the ministry”.

Most of his book is a broad description of the Church’s vocation to be stewards of God’s delight, illustrated by reference to theologians ancient and modern. It is as relevant to all Christians as to ordinands or clergy. Clavier sets this in polemical contrast to the oppressive managerial culture of contemporary ministry, as he sees it, characterised as “an obsession that has done much to drain the ministry of charm”. However true that may be, the institutional realities of ministry deserve a fuller and more nuanced evaluation than they get here.

The author believes that delight in God and in God’s creation has been seriously underplayed. He recognises the fallenness of the world, but does not dwell on all that might seem to contradict that delight; and his proper concern to raise his ordinands’ sights from priestly particulars to the glory of God does lead him into some blandly uncontestable generalisations: “God calls our churches to be temples of God’s love where we discover true love by sharing in God’s love present within and among his people.”

The conversational style of his original delivery can grate at times — “Well, this is all very cheery, isn’t it?” — and his encouragement for us to be “the buds and blossoms of the new creation” (and, more alarmingly at one point, “sprouts”) took my mind, I confess, to Bertie Wooster’s bête noire Madeline Bassett, for whom “the stars are God’s daisy chain.”

We need Clavier’s insistence that the heart of pastoral ministry lies in enjoying people for their own sake, and not in terms of their usefulness; and we certainly need to hear that “The ministry isn’t about you or your needs.” But it’s hard to forget, once the author has drawn attention to it, that Bianco da Siena’s well-known line, “and lowliness become mine inner clothing”, is praising humility as the underwear of the soul.

 

Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.

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