THIS is a book about ordained ministry today, and it is of relevance to those who are thinking about it, preparing for it, or doing it now.
What makes the book special is that it is grounded in four different “sources”. The first is Burridge’s research on the Gospels, and, in particular, his book, Four Gospels, One Jesus? The second is the liturgy of ordination of deacons and priests.The third is the “selections criteria” of the Church of England. The fourth is Burridge’s own ministerial experience.
It is the integration of all these factors which makes the book so good. While it is much richer and more valuable than it might have been if it were simply the application of his biblical research to the ministerial task, the reflections on the selection criteria and the ordination liturgy were, for this reader, the less compelling aspects. I suspect that it might be different for those on the journey towards ordination.
I imagine that the retreat on which this is all based was tremendous. I love the idea of new clergy arriving at the cathedral clutching copies of the Ordinal marked up with highlighter pens, each colour reflecting one particular Evangelist’s emphasis: teaching for St Matthew, pastoral care for St Luke, struggle for St Mark, and spirituality for St John.
There is a perhaps surprising — though, to me, welcome — emphasis on parochial ministry as the norm. There is certainly a refreshing absence of the idea that the newly ordained are there to do things differently. The emphasis is on faithful and responsive service, grounded in spirituality, issuing in preaching, teaching, and attentive pastoral care and engagement; and the assumption is that such ordained ministry will be lived out in some kind of collaborative context.
The author does, on the other hand, acknowledge that the ordained and their families are exposed to particular pressures that require self-awareness, reliance, and, most importantly, wise and companionable support. The emphasis throughout on avoiding over-activity is deftly articulated: a memorable anecdote recounts Desmond Tutu’s assistant going through a programme and deleting half the engagements to make time for appropriate preparations and recovery for the things that mattered most.
I was ordained about the same time as the author, and have ended up in a post that at least sounds similar, if not identical (we are both Dean of a King’s College), and perhaps for these reasons was provoked to some critical and helpful personal reflection on my own vocational journey, and aspects of the way in which things have settled down over the years.
The key question on my mind while reading the book to review it was this: “Do I wish that I had read this before?” The answer was a definite “Yes.”
The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.
Four Ministries, One Jesus: Exploring your vocation with the four Gospels
Richard A. Burridge
Church Times Bookshop £8.99