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After the Order of Melchizedek: Memoirs of an Anglican priest by Adrian Leak

08 July 2022

This memoir of ministry reflects vast changes, says Anthony Phillips

AFICIONADOS of Adrian Leak will be delighted that after Nebuchadnezzar’s Marmalade Pot, Archbishop Benson’s Humming Top, and The Calves of Jeroboam, this entertaining priest has offered yet more reminiscences of his ministry, this time in the form of a mini autobiography.

He begins with his early childhood in Cairo and Jerusalem. Even then, he betrays the delightful quirkiness that will punctuate his priesthood. Relishing the intoxicating smell of the National Geographic magazine, he eats a page: “in every sense a bitter disappointment”. Typically for a child with parents living abroad, he experiences early boarding at a prep school in England with staff “whose eccentric conduct hovered at times on the edge of criminal insanity”. Disjointed and nomadic holidays followed.

While very early he recognised “the nagging guilt that fuels so much Protestant zeal”, it was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and later St Cuthbert’s, Philbeach Gardens, that gave him as a young boy “sight of a world beyond the veil, a glimpse of heaven on earth” which was never lost.

There then followed Lancing, with its superb chapel, where he experienced an inexplicable and defining spiritual encounter; Christ Church, Oxford, which nowadays “seems to have a less comfortable relationship with its own chapel”; a period of hesitation over committing himself to ordination while he taught, back at his prep school; and then Cuddesdon, enjoying its golden age with Robert Runcie as Principal and a star-studded staff.

As then customary, two curacies followed. Describing the world as it was “then” and the way in which we “did things”, Leak presents a very different picture from today’s impoverished parish life. His first incumbency was of two rural parishes in the Vale of Evesham, “the best rural parishes anyone could wish to have”, where he joined the local hunt, then “no more remarkable than today’s curate on the cricket pitch”. In his second, he was not so fortunate.

Anxious to move, he applied for the posts of Vicar Choral and Archivist (for which he had absolutely no qualification) at York Minster. The account of his interviews was not the only place in his book where I found myself laughing out loud. He was there when the devastating fire ravaged the Minster. Noting that churches are “sacred places where visions can happen”, he, like many priests of his generation, deplores the “jollity of contemporary worship”, which crowds out “opportunities for detachment and reflection”.

After York, Leak moved to Guildford Cathedral as Precentor and Residentiary Canon. There, his marriage broke up, which led to a time out of ministry managing the Citizens Advice Bureau in Dorking. After marrying again, Leak gradually re-entered full time ministry, finally becoming Rector of Withyham, in East Sussex, with its splendid, if reduced, Georgian rectory, which he and his wife utilised fully for the benefit of the parish. Here, he exercised a remarkable final ministry alongside his predecessor’s widow, herself a Reader.

Forced to retire at 75, Leak declined to join that “pool of unpaid, albeit ageing, clergy willing to sustain the ministry of the Church of England” by going through the necessary hoops to obtain the Bishop’s permission to officiate, and instead returned to the pews.

None the less, in a passionate conclusion to these both amusing and yet serious reflections on ministry, Leak forcefully asserts that he is a priest “for ever after the order of Melchizedek”. There is indeed “a deeper meaning to priesthood. It cannot be defined by ecclesiastical ordinance alone.” Amen, I say to that.

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.


After the Order of Melchizedek: Memoirs of an Anglican priest
Adrian Leak
The Book Guild £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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