DAVID WILBOURNE has written a charming account of his years as the new vicar in a Yorkshire country town. Youthful inexperience, energy, and enthusiasm meet the stolid characters of Yorkshire country life. It’s a sort of James Herriot of rural ministry. Indeed, James Herriot has a cameo role as a local celebrity. In short, it’s part Kilvert, part Rev., and part The Vicar of Dibley.
Passion for ministry shines through every page of this book. Wilbourne loves people and simply enjoys being with them. And they in turn recognise that, whatever his inexperience, he is the “genuine article”. As he says, “I enjoyed the mingling . . . hearing people’s stories. . . Their hard-won faith and the way they put it into practice shames mine.”
As pastoral clergy have done through the ages, he shares the lives of his people — the humour and the tragedy. And they cut him a bit of slack: “You modern clergy may be a bit wet but at least you’re kind.”
A visitor from today’s Church would probably ask about the five-year strategic mission plan, the discipleship and education programme, the encouraging of the ministry of the laity. Finding little or nothing of that, they might wonder if this is just soap opera with added religion.
What gave me greatest pleasure in this book was to see how often Wilbourne manages to rise above that implied criticism. Through the ebb and flow of parish life and the everyday business of the Church, he confronts where necessary and takes his opportunities of teaching discipleship every bit as effectively as any programmatic approach.
I enjoyed his tussles with that unhelpful dogmatism that insecure people adopt in the name of clarity and firmness. “If they don’t live in Helmsley they can’t be buried in Helmsley,” intones the Trustee in the face of deep pastoral need. The church council resolves that “under no circumstances should children be involved in worship.” Each time, he deftly turns it round and delivers the message that it is in these places that the heart of the gospel is to be found.
Wilbourne also becomes skilful with the pithy saying that tells us where the heart of ministry is for him: “We leave Holy Communion with the taste of Christ on our lips to give people a taste of Christ in their lives.”
The Rt Revd David Chillingworth is a former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Shepherd of Another Flock
Sidgwick & Jackson £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50