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Parsonage and Parson by Richard Trahair

by
23 December 2022

Fergus Butler-Gallie reads the memoir of a diocesan official

AT THE very beginning of Richard Trahair’s Parsonage and Parson is a note stating that the work is “entirely fictitious and bears no resemblance to any persons, living or dead”.

Of course, the book isn’t fictitious at all, though some might wish it were. The early admission that most of the rectories, built cheaply in the 1960s and ’70s, required considerably more maintenance and repair than their 18th- and 19th-century precursors in whose gardens they invariably stood is unsurprising but refreshing candour from a sometime diocesan official. Normally such officials have an ostrich-like aversion to awkward truths such as this.

Despite this, Trahair is a kindly and compelling narrator, even if, when I told one long-ordained cleric that I was reviewing a book by a diocesan property secretary, he expressed the view to me that, had the property managers of any other charity or institution so comprehensively stripped the assets that they were supposed to hold in trust, the failure of fiduciary duty would have resulted in a spell in prison.

There is some eccentricity and fun in the figures described, such as the cartoonist canon who spent more time in the pub opposite his expansive rectory than in the rectory itself. There is more tragedy, though: partly in the figures such as the family killed in a house fire at a church property, but also in the wider narrative. Tellingly, we are told of a village community “disgracefully” objecting to the conversion of a church building away from religious purposes, which eventually leads to an assault. It is all very sad.

But these are just parts; the resultant whole makes for a well-written, tightly structured, but fundamentally melancholy book. It is a must-read for anybody interested in what the Church of England once was but never will be again. Contra the note at the start, the picture of the managerial Church painted, though it purports to be living, bears more than a passing resemblance to one that is dead.

The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie is a priest and a writer.

 

Parsonage and Parson: Coping with the clergy — thirty years of eccentricity and delight
Richard Trahair
The Book Guild £8.99
(978-1-915122-93-3)
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

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