This year saw the launch of SCM Research, a new hardback monograph series, publishing cutting-edge research from across the theological disciplines.
This month, joining Animals, Theology and the Incarnation by Kris Hiuser, and Development Beyond the Secular, by Catherine Loy, we’re publishing Clergy, Culture and Ministry, by the late Rev Canon Dr Ian Tomlinson. Tomlinson served as Rector of The Benefice of Appleshaw, Kimpton, Thruxon, Fyfield and Shipton Bellinger in the diocese of Winchester for 37 years, but very sadly died in 2016. Shortly before his death, we were privileged to work with Ian on the process of transforming his thesis into a book for the SCM Research series. Following Ian’s death, Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, continued the process of bringing Ian’s first book to publication.
Ian’s book focuses on the work of the late Dean of Westminster, Wesley Carr, author of The Priestlike Task. Carr’s work is often overlooked and yet, as Ian Tomlinson argues, he had some profound things to say about the task of Christian Ministry.
Clergy Culture and Ministry engages with Carr’s work to consider the difficulties and challenges faced by those in ordained ministry trying to interpret and understand what is going on in their congregation and parish, and why it might be happening. In his engagement with Carr, Tomlinson brings theory and practice into conversation by responding to each of Carr’s ‘propositions’ with a ‘critical incident’ from the author’s own parish experience.
Tomlinson’s methodology is creative and innovative, and, says Alister Redfern, Bishop of Derby, “will be like a breath of fresh air to all who seek encouragement in the task of Christian ministry”.
Below is an abridged extract from Martyn Percy’s foreword to the book.
This book is about roles and identities in ministry. Written by the Revd Canon Dr Ian Tomlinson, it is a profound meditation in the life and work of a skilled pastoral counsellor, which Ian was, and rooted in a range of interlocutors, in particular Wesley Carr’s writing, the insights of the Grubb Institute and the influence of Bruce Reed. More latterly, this includes conversations with myself over the several years of Ian’s doctoral study, which itself is rooted in his failing health due to terminal cancer. This book is based on that study, and is as fresh, perceptive and original as one would expect from Ian. He died in October 2016, having largely completed it, and any failings or shortcomings in this volume must be attributed to me, not him – I was given the task of bringing this one and only book of Ian’s to publication.
This is poignant for me. The book that has mostly shaped my own intellectual trajectory is a little-known work by the distinguished American contextual theologian, James Hopewell. Jim’s book, Congregation: Stories and Structures (1987], is exactly the kind of prescient contribution to pastoral studies and ecclesial literacy that Ian has sought to write. Jim, like Ian, died before his book was published, and it was Barbara Wheeler who was given the task of completing his work. Like Ian, Jim died of cancer, and reflected, as good clergy and scholars do, on what is happening to the person, and those around them, as they try and make sense of God and the world in the midst of happenstances, critical incidents and other moments in the life of a local parish church.
This is no small matter to contemplate. Theologians and church leaders who downplay or ignore the role, symbolism and importance of local clergy, do so at their peril. Clergy are, to deploy the conventional secular idiom, always much more than the sum of their parts (whether they like it or not!). Far more so, in fact, for they always carry the hidden, inchoate spiritual symbolisms, transferences and projections of the communities they serve, quite apart from anything that they themselves might want to say. Perhaps for this reason alone, such a weighty vocation needs to be tempered with humility and wisdom, and infused with character and virtue. It is one of the few roles in which being tirelessly good, kind and gentle might be more important than any achievement, or possibly even than competence. After all, we cherish saints for their kindness, compassion, love, wisdom, resilience, charity and goodness. And we like our clergy to be saints.
A person set aside for a symbolic, pastoral and priestly role in any community or context is in an increasingly unusual – some would say unique – position today. The work is not paid, at least in the strict sense of remuneration; but there is often some sort of stipend. The role is not ‘work’, strictly speaking, in the way that the world might understand the concept.
For example, there are few prescribed hours, duties and tasks – and yet the role is highly demanding and, at times, intensive. The kind of leadership that one gives in a (largely) voluntary institution is not the same as that given in an organization with clarity between employers, employees and those whom the organization serves. Ministry is easy to describe on a day-to-day basis in terms of tasks; and supporting paradigms – rooted in people and practices drawn from the richness of Christian tradition – are numerous. Yet curiously, ministry remains difficult to define, and the roles increasingly hard to articulate.
What, then is ministry like? It is not like teaching, nursing or counselling; nor is it like being a doctor, social worker, solicitor or other profession. It is, perhaps uniquely, a role in a community – whether a parish, prison or other sector – that goes beyond the normal vocabulary for defining work.
What is ministry like? In some respects it is rather like a kind of ‘intentional parenting’. That is to say, there are indeed plans and structures for the parish and the congregation; and there is no getting away from the essential value of these for cultivating healthy individuals and relationships. A loving and cherishing household underlies this ecology. But mature parenting is also about accepting that, despite the intentionality of plans and structures, life, like ministry, is a continual stream of interruptions, disruptions and surprises – some of which are welcome, but not all. Ministry, like parenting, is a relatively boundless occupation. In this regard, Ian Tomlinson’s book is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the role of clergy in today’s world. For all who delve into his text, there is something rich here on roles, relations and identities: to read, mark and learn.
Clergy, Culture and Ministry is published later this month. You can preorder a copy now, via our website.