*** DEBUG END ***

Being Reverend: A diary, by Matt Woodcock

11 December 2020

David Wilbourne reads a pioneer’s jottings

IN HIS book Being Reverend, Matt Woodcock keeps a diary of his hyperactive first 18 months as a Pioneer Minister in Hull city centre. He works the same mean streets through which I walked to school, and then ran collecting debts for Barclays Bank — we visited in pairs, à la Luke 10, adding an old-fashioned dowel-shaped ruler up our sleeves for protection. Woodcock catches Hull’s culture and people perfectly, with a tender heart for its drunks and down-and-outs, treating them to meals and hot drinks in Wetherspoons.

He aches for the Church and its gospel to thrive, and is baffled when clergy, congregations, and antiquated bishops woefully undersell their Lord, straining at the gnat and missing the camel. Speaking of which, he features actual camels in a live nativity, with an outreach that also includes staging a beer festival and an erotic fashion show in Hull’s ancient Minster, launching a church football team, becoming the local boxing club’s chaplain (and having his nose bloodied in a sparring session), taking church into the bar of the roughest pub in Europe, and then bringing it back again because the numbers are so massive. Archbishop Sentamu tells his protégé whirlwind to calm down and see God in the still small voice.

Actually, there is plenty of stillness, as Woodcock grapples with Michael Ramsey, R. S. Thomas, Philip Larkin, and searing Quiet Days with Sister Cecilia, his hard-talking spiritual mentor. Woodcock informs the Bishop of Hull (whom he berates for living in a mansion) that he doesn’t do failure, but fail he does as ventures come to nothing and people of high promise let him down. His ministry to a young couple who have lost a baby and a dying woman is masterly understated — and massively moving. His fragrant wife and unfragrant newborn twins are the loves of his life, neglected for Christ.

The diary’s genre is essentially Adrian Mole with a clerical collar, doing God very well indeed, simultaneously self-deprecating and triumphalist, edgy and tender, scatological and eschatological, seasoned with shedloads of righteous anger and humour that both shocks and debunks. His mother seeks his advice about shacking up with her boyfriend. “You need to ask Jesus what he thinks: maybe he can make an exception for you!” Yet non-judgemental Woodcock makes everyone the exception by treating them as exceptional and treating us to laughter and tears — and challenges — along the way.


The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is an hon. assistant bishop in York diocese.


Being Reverend: A diary
Matt Woodcock
CHP £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)