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Everyday Conversations with Matthew, by John Holdsworth, and Everyday Public Worship, by Susan H. Jones

31 December 2020

David Wilbourne reads two books that illustrate various outlooks

ARCHDEACON John Holdsworth’s Conversations with Matthew draws on the latest scholarship to produce a bracing interpretation. Matthew, dark and angular, trumped by Mark’s urgency, Luke’s eternal optimism, and John’s sheer poetry, “has fewer friends than he once had”. Yet Matthew, in deploying eisegesis by skilfully superimposing the story of the emerging Church (with all its tensions and disappointments) on to the story of Jesus, proves a reflective practitioner whose hard-won lessons are equally applicable to our troubled age.

In his own eisegesis, Holdsworth projects eight characters carrying contemporary baggage on to Matthew: graduate Chris, integrating intelligence with mindless rock-church enthusiasm; apprentice TJ, surprised by radical Christians on a protest march; smartphone Nikki, questioning the authority of social-media posts; vicar David, disappointed by decline; Catholic Rowena, revisiting Petrine authority; Czech refugee Veronika, disturbed by God’s wrath; faithful Sue, whose agnostic husband Derek “gets” Matthew’s apocalyptic better than she does; and grandma Phoebe, using Holy Week and Jesus Christ Superstar to bring grandchildren to faith.

Bouncing them off Matthew works supremely well, and entices us to become Holdsworth’s ninth character and find salvation therein, with bons mots galore along the way: Matthew’s genealogy is like a set of graphs corroborating a business proposal; Matthew “teases” us with OT parallels; capitalist businesses following a Sermon on the Mount ethic would collapse; in the Passion, we lose the principal character’s voice, and so have to pay attention to the narrator. Holdsworth, whose cheering Bible studies used to spring the Governing Body of the Church in Wales from a stone-cold tomb to a verdant Easter, fully deserves our attention, too.

The book by the Dean of Liverpool, Sue Jones, is a tour de force through the eucharist and the daily and occasional Offices, exploring how worship can harness music, space, and the senses. Shunning the Reformers’ obsession with cerebral purity and sensory renunciation, she skilfully covers not so much a great deal of ground as whole continents, emphasising that worship is not worship until you actually do it.

Revisiting familiar territory was refreshing, with some surprises, such as Basil the Great, who wisely excommunicated miscreants for repeatedly using the guitar. Jones’s tightly timetabled odyssey breezes through the history of emerging eucharistic rites, transubstantiation, and eucharistic sacrifice, and by-passes entirely the notion of Christ’s fourfold eucharistic action: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving. Sadly, the Alternative Service Book 1980 fails to make the grade as a liturgical Bradshaw’s: it clearly didn’t affect Jones’s two decades of ministry in Wales as it fired mine in England: it was so good having everything in just one book.

Each learned chapter is peppered with intense and courteous conversations between Methodist Paul, Anglo-Catholic Beth, and Evangelical Maggie, who strangely rummages in church cupboards, discovering service orders from ages past: there shades of Enid Blyton — The Famous Three Do Liturgy. Their distinctly Habgoodian coolness made me long for ages past when they would have cheerfully burned each other, arguing fiercely about the epiclesis as the flames licked their limbs. Now that would be worthy of Jones’s dictum that worship should be a whole-body experience.


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


Everyday Conversations with Matthew
John Holdsworth
SCM Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop special offer price £8.99


Everyday Public Worship
Susan H. Jones
SCM Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop special offer price £8.99

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