ROBERT BEAKEN has been a parish priest for pretty much his entire ministry, and serves two parishes in rural Essex. He has also found time to write books, two of which — a biography of Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang, and a study of the part played by the Church of England during the Great War — are both excellent studies of a person and an institution that, perhaps, have not been treated too well by history.
Following Christ is a collection of Beaken’s sermons. He compiled them as he prepared to celebrate 30 years as a priest. Quite apart from the high quality of the material here, it is so refreshing to read that the author is still excited and enthused by being a parish priest. Here is a man who sees this as the highest vocation, and not as the route to something else. As he says himself, “If there has been much pain, there has been much more joy. The truth is, I enjoy my work, and I am profoundly grateful to God for entrusting me with my priestly vocation.”
The basic shape of the book follows that of the Church’s year, with other occasions added throughout, such as a requiem for a churchwarden, an address for a theological college, and so on. Beaken has deliberately gone for a variety of subjects, and expects the reader to “dip” in as desired. We end up with a very good picture of what a priest has to talk about over the course of a year.
Beaken talks in his introduction about the image of the Church as a “pilgrim people”. Like all images of the Church, this can be overdone, but it is important in that it reminds the reader (and the preacher) that we are all “on the way” in some sense. The preacher may be “static”, like the building in which he or she preaches, but the hearer never is. The words of the preacher must somehow feed them all.
Beaken’s style is clear and readable (and listenable). He communicates the basics of the Christian faith clearly, and inflects this with personal references that do not collapse into self-indulgence. Taken as a whole, this volume is a very fine exposition of what we Christians believe and do, and why. That this has come from the pen of an “ordinary” parish priest gives this writer grounds for optimism in a Church all too often in thrall to spin and glitter. Highly recommended.
The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.
Following Christ: Sermons for the Christian year
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70