It is my experience that some books just scratch where I am itching. It might be the writing style, subject, or simply that it has come at the right time for me to “get it”. These are the books you read that just help things make sense, or put into words the things you’ve been struggling to vocalise.
The best example of this for me is Contemplative Youth Ministry – Practising the Presence of Jesus with Young People” by Mark Yaconnelli (SPCK 2006), which is a book that spoke deeply to my heart, and opened up contemplative spirituality for me properly for the first time. In particular I discovered Lectio Divino, and remember thinking at the time “Wow – how come I haven’t ever come across this before?”. The answer was, of course, that I had – I found some notes I’d made on how to do it from 10 or 15 years earlier, but at that point time I just hadn’t got it, and the notes just got filed away.
It’s not so much that these books answer the questions I’m asking (although I am usually driven to read them for answers), but more that they give some insight to those questions, and the framework and vocabulary to explore them – and more often then not to realise that actually I’m asking the wrong question, or that living with an unanswered question is more important than The Answer.
I write this because there are two books I’ve recently read which have really hit the spot, as I continue my exploration/reflection/struggle with ordination, self-supporting ministry, work, and so on, the first of which is “Ministers of the Kingdom. Exploration in Non-Stipendiary Ministry” edited by Peter Baelz and William Jacob (CIO, 1985). While it’s a relatively old book, three really big ideas leapt out and grabbed me.
First of all, the whole question “why did you need to be ordained to be a minister at work” is starting from completely the wrong place. It assumes that parish ministry is normative (i.e. what ordination is for), and tries to make self-supporting ministry fit into that box.
The second is that it started to help me appreciate that being ordained doesn’t mean that ministry will necessarily look any different, but that it may have created more opportunities to minister to the people and structures at work.
Finally, the concept of being an amateur priest – not in the pejorative or unskilled sense, but in the same way you (used to) get amateur athletes competing in the Olympics or at Wimbledon, or you get amateur dramatics or photographers. That is to say those who don’t do those things as their profession/living. I think that even since this book was written “amateur” and “professional” have acquired much more of a qualitative judgement, so amateur now means “a bit rubbish”, and professional means “very good”, which in turn makes it a less helpful vocabulary. However,
“The better connotation is that the amateur is one who plays the game for love not money, and who may well possess a charismatic flair that evades the dour professional. … the amateur usually plays for and stays with his (sic) home tea, without touting his talents around to the highest bidder. He has as inbuilt loyalty to his town or county which he truly represents: amateur Devonians play for Devon.
Amateur clergy … are indigenous to an environment and/or comparatively stable. At least there is no professional ladder to climb, no career structure to follow or hope for. They are amateurs playing for the home team, whether situated in town, village, school, office or factory.” (Martin Thornton The Ministry of Prayer in Ministers of the Kingdom. p 66)
The other book is “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor, but I’ll do that next time…