LETTERS from the clergy in parish magazines can be dreadfully dull. Adrian Leak proves the exception with his “random thoughts of an imperfect parish priest”: a total of 79 letters or reflections, mostly penned for his Sussex parishioners.
Reflecting on the Church’s seasons with a fresh pair of eyes, he encourages parishioners to “find kneeling place in the straw with shepherds and kings . . . as we, too, come each with our own private freight”.
Although spiritually astute, he has his feet firmly on the ground: “Too much reason and we lose the mystery; too much mystery and we lose our reason.” He fears that “aspiration to sanctity is the first step to spiritual ruin,” and also denounces the double standards that dictate against female canonisation: “Conduct which was regarded as sanctity in men was regarded as insanity in women.”
Leak’s humour is understated: “Cromwell stabled his horses in church, which was about as far as you can go in demystifying any building.”
He wryly observes that “Ecclesiastical authority can sometimes be astonishingly obtuse.” This caused his ideal Church of England, with its low threshold and large porch, to go “a little mad, waving her arms about in the sure belief that she was saved, thereby frightening away many of her fringe members who were not sure if they were saved, and even if they were, did not entirely want to be, if it meant singing twaddle. . . Alleluia, alleluia, we learnt to sing, with too much heart and very little brain.”
Leak, however, is no reactionary: he asserts that the prevailing attitude to relationships is less stuffy and hypocritical than when he was first ordained.
Pieces such as “Moorhens and Mortality”, “Sunday Sport”, “The Angelus at Waterloo”, and “Burial in a Country Churchyard” reminded me of Austin Farrer’s magnificent wreaths-and-crosses-made-to-order sermon. Hauntingly poetic turns of phrase abound: “We kill each other when the grass is lush and the roses are in bloom,” and “At the Dissolution, the monks’ manuscripts went flying around like butterflies in the air.”
Leak’s final words form an apt epitaph to an inclusive, joyous ministry: “Christ opens the door, slips quietly in, and joins the party.”
The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is a former Assistant Bishop of Llandaff.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Marmalade Pot
The Book Guild £13.99
Church Times Bookshop £12.60