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The parish and what it’s about

20 January 2017

Peter McGeary is glad to find a sympathetic book on ministry


The Parish Handbook
Bob Mayo with Cameron Collington and David Gillett
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18



HOW is a clerical dinosaur such as myself supposed to react to a book like this? The immediate temptation is Schadenfreude: how nice to see somebody agreeing with all the things that I have been saying (and doing) all these years! But this would be wrong. Apart from betraying the grossly inflated ways in which I have been saying (and doing) things all these years, this would suppress the proper response to the book, which is gratitude.

Bob Mayo is obviously a parish priest of a very busy and challenging parish. The Parish Handbook is an extended reflection on the different things that make up his life as a parish priest. He does this by the artifice of using the letters of the alphabet to order 26 short chapters on various aspect of the life and ministry of a parish priest.

Cameron Collington (a local colleague) provides a short meditation and prayer at the end of each chapter, and David Gillett (once Mayo’s training incumbent, and a former Bishop of Bolton) provides opening and closing reflections. As the latter observes in his preface, this is not a book to be read quickly, but, rather, reflectively, in small amounts.

Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the land, there were books — usually published by Mowbrays — that told you what priests did and how they were supposed to do it. And very good they were too. I suppose that, to a certain extent, this book stands in that lineage, albeit in a much updated form: there is even a reference to the Brexit vote. There is also a much more personal feel to the text — Mayo peppers it with stories from his own experience — and the book is the richer for it.

I get the impression that this book is a sign of a new awareness of the value of parish ministry: of the importance of being grounded in a place, of availability, patience, and acceptance. Also, there is an acknowledgement of the place of buildings not as burdens but as assets, signs of something beyond, places of hospitality, community, togetherness. There seems to be here a much more sophisticated model of “mission” going on here, compared with the rather facile models that all too often hold sway. Perhaps this is a case where what goes around comes around — albeit in a modified form.

Minor caveats aside (“Easter Saturday” is the one after Easter Day, not before), this book is clearly required reading for anybody considering ordination. It would also benefit the ordained (including dinosaurs) as a healthy reminder of what they are supposed to be about.


The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.

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