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The Humble Church, by Martyn Percy

18 June 2021

But this critique won’t disrupt the status quo, Ann Morisy suggests

THE message from the publisher and in the foreword by John Pritchard is that this is a prophetic book. I am not so sure.

Martyn Percy’s thesis is straightforward: the Church needs to go back to basics, stripping itself of its privilege and self-serving habits and become humble. The words and actions of Jesus must drive the Church. This humble Church that Dean Percy commends involves receptive partnership in mission, requiring a deeper reading of contexts, combined with the shedding of privilege and embracing a contemporary understanding of inclusion.

Percy’s thought pieces are organised into three parts: Culture and Change; Challenges and Church; Christ and Christianity. The connecting theme ebbs and flows and is often eclipsed by his determination to give the Church and its leadership a good kicking. It is difficult to discern at whom this book is aimed. The discussion questions at the end suggest that it is for lay people gathering in fellowship. These are good and worthwhile questions, but best allowed to stand alone rather than coupled with the book.

Much of what is presented is backward-looking: Percy compares Faith in the City and Mission-shaped Church and favours the former; he scrutinises the Mawer report and finds it wanting; grumbles about Provincial Episcopal Visitors and the unholy compromise that this represents; outlines the well-worn typology of Generations X and Z to show how the Church is hopelessly wrong-footed; and continues to contend with Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit.

Percy provides frequent poetic pointers towards the creation of a humble Church; many of these are by Emma Percy. He sketches the nature of personal humility and commends humble leadership, but ducks the challenge of formulating the modus of a humble organisation, let alone a humble institution.

Percy’s offering confirms my hunch that, in these troubled times, revelation and innovation are unlikely to be found in academe or in traditional ministerial training. Rather, it is in local, mundane, and, one might even say, humble places that the notion of church is being renewed.

There is a multitude of examples, many of which have their origins as fresh expressions which Percy scorns. The absence of such examples and references suggests that Percy is out of the flow with what is happening on the ground. This is a significant flaw when he urges the Church to embrace a deeper reading and response to contexts in order to See, Judge, Act, and Do.

Prophets are dangerous, uncomfortable people to have around. They upset the applecart. Prophecy, however, involves more than poking a stick at those presumed to be powerful. A prophet must refashion the prevailing narrative and articulate a route with viable stepping stones. Sadly, The Humble Church is not a prophetic bidding; rather, it is more of a lament.

Ann Morisy is a freelance community theologian based in south London.


The Humble Church
Martyn Percy
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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