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Archbishop Benson’s Humming Top and Other Reflections, by Adrian Leak

21 December 2018

These sermons and articles are perceptive, says Anthony Phillips

AFTER the success of Nebuchadnezzar’s Marmalade Pot (Christmas Books, 24 November 2017), Adrian Leak has produced a further collection of sermons and articles, some previously published in the Church Times. All testify to the breadth of Leak’s considerable learning, worn lightly and expressed succinctly.

As one might expect, there are sermons for the Church’s major feasts presented with a kind of creative obliqueness which makes one think in new ways. He praises Common Worship, described, like Cranmer’s prose, as having its own music, but has reservations about “the bright-and-breezy” climate of parish communion, which provides little space for vision. On intercessions, Leak comments: “We are in danger of reverting to the nursery, becoming not the Church Militant but the Church Petulant.”

A diverse cast of historical figures, not all well known, merit articles. My favourite, as might be expected, was the affectionate tribute to Roger Lockyer, clearly an inspiring teacher. Places, too, provide subjects for meditation, from Little Gidding to Stansted airport and, in Surrey, Tilling Bourne. Fans of The Archers will enjoy the piece on the village pantomime.

Leak provides ample material for one’s Commonplace Book. Consider: “The nagging verbosity of Protestantism”; or “When God became incarnate in Palestine, he consecrated all humanity”; or on the mystery of death, “the silent emptiness which replaces in an instant the presence of the living being”. Of the many quotations from others, who could question Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx’s comment: “Those who take friendship out of life, take the sun out of the world”?

Among other observations with which I found myself concurring was Leak’s objection to the “high scare factor” in so much religion; his celebration of the glory of cathedral music, an end in itself no matter how many are present; and his criticism of busyness in so much of ministry. Of Leak himself, we learn that he is an ex-huntsman, and that he thoroughly enjoyed his “not strictly speaking” Georgian rectory, even if the south wing had been sealed off.

These perceptive reflections deserve a place in every clergy house — in the spare room, if they still have one — or otherwise the loo.

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.


Archbishop Benson’s Humming Top and Other Reflections
Adrian Leak
The Book Guild £13.99
Church Times Bookshop £12.60

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