Cast your words away upon the waves

Matt Woodcock: Becoming Reverend, Church House Publishing, 9781781400104

becoming-reverend This is not a review it is a response. I’m on retreat and when I am away I like to have a book to dialogue with, something to help with my thinking about ministry, my ministry, as we approach the beginning of a new church year. Looking out of the window in my little garret room I can see the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, a reminder that not all ministry models remain viable. This year I have chosen the recently published Becoming Reverend. I have read it through twice, once in proof format and once as the real thing. It helps that I am also having to write a review of it for publication.

Let’s get the ‘fnarr, fnarr’ moment out of the way first. This is a book about a wannabe Reverend who is high on action and low on sperm count. And his name is Matt Woodcock. Yes, Woodcock. Sigh. I had to be the one to mention it. Right, that’s that dealt with. Next, at times Becoming Reverend made me so angry that reading it in bed was impossible. It wound me up to such an extent that I couldn’t get to sleep. Which is not to say that it is wrong (although, in places, it is), just that it seriously riled me.  There is good stuff in here, unfortunately you have dig through mounds of scatological musings to find it. The last set of diaries I read which were so effusive with the bowel movements belonged to Kenneth Williams.

Matt Woodcock’s diary covers the three years from his selection for ministry training to ordination as a priest in the Church of England. This is no Bed of Nails, Peter Owen Jones’s diary of his time at theological college. That was required reading when I was training for ministry. It was witty, coruscating, literate and canny. Becoming Reverend belches boastfulness and laddishness from every booze soaked pore. It is a paean to the ordinary man, filled with hard tackles (careful), hard drinking, hard partying and hard questions. Scratch below the surface of its stadium rock bombast and it is also passionate, perceptive and tells a good story, one which swings from farce to tragedy, life to death, hopelessness to hope. I say again, there is good stuff in this book, lots of it.

But first you have to get past Matt Woodcock, former journalist, ex-employee of Archbishop Sentamu, married to Anna, with a mass of much-loved friends and family, but struggling to conceive. A struggle whose root cause, it is worth mentioning again, is because of his low sperm count. It might be that it is brave of him to talk about this – certainly it is worthwhile – but then again, he was a journalist and this is a good angle on the story. Humph. Maybe that is going too far. We shall see.

‘I need to be myself, I can’t be no one else’

The thing you need to know about Matt is not how strong swimming his seed is, it is how mind-bendingly arrogant he is. No wonder he idolises bloomin’ Oasis (more on that story later), he has the self-aggrandising cheek of Noel, Liam and one D Trump all rolled up into a little package of northern delights. Before the recent US presidential election I had never come across anyone who ‘bigged’ themselves up so much, a true rapper’s delight. On almost every page he is reminding you that he is God’s gift to the C of E, he is going to single-handedly become the Lord’s instrument for reformation of a moribund church, he is the Neo for the post-Brexit generation (except that he doesn’t quite get ‘Matrix-style’ clergy robes). If arrogance was lard you could grease your monkeys from here to eternity (or Halifax) with Matt Woodcock. Oh, he knows it, everyone keeps telling him, but heigh, ho, that isn’t going to stop him from shooting his lip at every single opportunity.

I must admit that this attitude nearly stopped me from continuing with the book. It was extremely intrusive and terribly wearing. At times it was downright offensive. I don’t think I could be in the same room as him. I would deck him. In all Christian humility and charity, of course. Sometimes his boasts are in the Lord Jesus, they explode out of him because he has the fire of faith running through his veins. Sometimes he is actually right in his judgments. But because he is the ultimate wind-up merchant, a cock rocker par excellence, often his message is lost amongst the ordure. He mentions that he hates self-assessment forms. So do I. When it came to those forms on the front of every essay we wrote for ministry training I never, ever filled in the section about what I thought was good about my work. It is not my place to say that. It is not my place to say that I think that I am any good at anything. That is boasting, that is arrogance, that is just plain rude. Yet Matt is doing just that in almost every diary entry.

It could be that this is some sort of northern thing. Matt is a northerner through and through. He is very proud of the fact and very committed to his part of the country. I freely admit that although I was born and raised in Birmingham I just don’t understand the north (yes, I know what you are thinking, Birmingham is south midlands, but as far as I am concerned everything north of Tewkesbury is the north). The north is a long way from where I live, it is an almost mythical place. I’ve heard of it but barely ever visited. Whenever I have it has been an alien experience – different language, different culture, different landscape. When I see northern scenery on the TV it simply comes across as bleak, species poor, empty of life. When I go out into the countryside I want to see an abundant variety of dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies, I want to be able to discover some wildlife. The north has a few key species and then all is barren.

Or it could be that Matt is an urbanite. I don’t understand why anyone ever lives in a city out of choice – I know that many, so many, don’t have the choice, rural dwelling is not accessible or affordable. But cities are full of dirt, mess, mucky pavements, broken windows, damage, decay, violence, aggression, busyness. And people, there are so many people.

Matt thrives on this. He seems to actually like people. He certainly seems to have more friends than folk I have ever spoken to. He loves people, he does that thing (which I do think is a peculiarly northern trait) of going out of his way to talk to them – strangers, folk in shops, in bars, wherever he is. I find that just plain rude. Getting in someone else’s space, butting in on their lives. Why would you do that? It is insensitive, aggressive, threatening.

And yet, and yet, and yet, I actually love him for his dedication to his part of the world, his people and his ability to start a conversation with almost anyone (although, with Matt there seems to be a high chance that he will get their backs up). He goes on about how few clergy feel called to the north, to the cities, to the areas of most deprivation (which he equates with most need). And he is right. Absolutely right. I wish I did feel that was the place for me – I can see that there is a need. I wouldn’t have the language, or the insight or the strength. I wouldn’t last five minutes.

‘I’ll book myself into a soul asylum’

The diary begins with the weird ritual of selection conference. I think we came at this from different angles. He thought he would be out of place because he was loud and northern and a football loving urbanite. I thought I was out of place because I was southern based, white, male, football hating, with a theology degree and an Anglo-Catholic background. We both found the whole experience baffling, testing but ultimately affirming – affirming even before we received the response from the Church that it was believed that we were/are called to priestly ministry.

Matt went full-time to Cranmer Hall and I part-time to Sarum College. I was working full-time while studying. I still find my secular work to be as much a vocation as is priesthood. One disadvantage Sarum has against Cranmer is that you don’t get to participate in the full round of college life. Community life is one of the key aspects of training which we only experienced at the study weekends and the annual week in College over Easter. But not in the same intense way as at Cranmer. I could say that that was why I didn’t make any lasting friendships at college – unlike Matt, who is a bit like superglue, bonding with anyone who comes in reach. However, it might be more true to say I don’t make friends easily. Matt is big on bonding, especially with other men. He does sporty things with them. He does the heavy drinking lark. What is the point of going out drinking and drinking – I just don’t get it. There are very few men I would choose to spend long periods of time with. I’m not big on manly things – I don’t really get the point of sport, I don’t drive, I hardly ever watch a film. Some of Matt’s language is blokey and utterly impenetrable to me. At one point he says that criticising Fairtrade at college was like ‘singing “Blue Moon” in the Stretford End.’ I have no idea what that means.

Anyway, Matt gets to college and immediately starts dissing it. He just doesn’t get the worship. It is all formal and wordy and ‘joyless’. Humph. The Book of Common Prayer is a real bugbear for him. It is antiquated, it doesn’t relate to the real men he hangs out with, it has no energy. Well, yes, the BCP isn’t my first port of call for worship. I have this theory that Cranmer had a large lung capacity (or the air was cleaner and breathing easier) which is why his sentences are so long. They contain many subordinate clauses. Once you twig that semi-colons can often be treated as full stops you start to get your breath back. Anyway, the BCP is the backbone of Anglicanism. Common Worship is full of rich texts and resources adaptable to many situations. College is there is give you a thorough grounding in the basics. Once you fully know what you are doing then you can riff away to your heart’s content. Or maybe not.

At one point Matt rails against his fellow students who don’t see being a priest as a leadership role. It isn’t, necessarily, a role demanding leadership in every area. It is first and foremost leadership in liturgy. Priests are the liturgical experts in their community. Read the ordination charge and you know that they are much more than that. But their pastoral, teaching and evangelistic effectiveness relates directly to their use of liturgy. Dive into Eamon Duffy’s key text The Stripping of the Altars and you might get my drift. In pre-Reformation England liturgy really was the work of the people. It was seeped into every aspect of life and everyone, in one way or another, practically or prayerfully, was involved in rituals which were coterminous with the daily round, the common task. The priest was the MC and the shaman, the people much more than participant observers and the rituals themselves were woven into and grew out of the rhythm of life, the rhythm of the seasons. So, I don’t care whether you use prosecco and canapes or a crate of Rigwelter and a chip butty; what it is up to the contemporary priest to do is create rites that connect with the context of life in ways that affirm, deepen, transcend the mundane, give meaning, maybe a little comfort, certainly celebration and above all hope. Context is key to good liturgy. Matt strikes me as a context driven person. But rites have to be bigger than we make them – liminal – expressing the things we haven’t got words for – breaking open this little world and letting God not drip through but flood in.

He also doesn’t seem to appreciate the academic nature of his training. Again, it is grounding, it isn’t meant to be the be all or end all of ministry, just the rootstock onto which he grafts the way of living out Christliness, of communicating God, that is appropriate for his community. He huffs over learning NT Greek and decides it is not for him. I huffed over the fact that in our ministry training we had no option to learn it. It was a crucial aspect of my first degree in theology. I wasn’t very good at it but I learnt loads about the use of language, about the complexity and inaccuracy of translation that I have found useful ever since. And I still regret not continuing with Hebrew.

Another one of his constant rants is with regard to the way that he was taught – by tutors who encouraged the ordinands to question everything but who weren’t then willing to give them definitive answers. He moans that it seems as if everything boils down to ‘it’s a mystery’ and ‘the answer is Jesus’ – but by the end of his training he does seem to understand that this mystery business is key. The need for quantifiable, reasonable answers is the result of post-Reformation, Enlightenment thinking. It marks the triumph of the word over the symbolic. Post modernity blurs the distinctions, but still seems to favour the rational over the poetic.

Then there is the constant carping that most other clergy have got it all wrong, don’t have enough oomph, aren’t prepared to tell the world about Jesus. This is coupled with the assertion that he will stir it all up, turn the Church around and reinvigorate the faith. Thank you, Matt, for such confidence in our abilities. Thank you for writing us off if we aren’t of your extrovert build. Sure, some clergy are tired and worn out, sure some are managing decline rather than building for growth, but you see, it isn’t as cut and dried as all that. In fact, many clergy, many church communities are doing what you are doing, they are living the love of God and in doing so quietly, gently sharing it with those around. We might not be good at telling people about Jesus, but some are good at living like Jesus and showing others the Godly path. Matt knows his Bosch so knows that what attracted outsiders to the early Christian communities was not what they said but the way that they lived differently and distinctively. Matt, don’t colour my life until it fits with your own.

In all this moaning that the C of E is atrophying, and worse, he is again, at times, right. We need to be continually prophetic, pushing capitalism into a new shape, one which values people over shares and nature over products. We also have to connect with the great swathes of folk who feel disenfranchised, uncared for, unloved in their own country. We need more priests like him who have grown out of those communities and who still have their roots there. The answer isn’t to dumb down the training process, make it less academic. It is to find innovative and fresh ways to teach and stretch minds. And beyond that, there is still a need for Radio 4 listening, opera loving clergy – they also have an uphill task reaching out to a thoroughly secularised professional class that feels it has no need of mystery.

All this is getting too serious. Time for an excursus. Which will it be – sex, railways or music? If you don’t mind, we’ll save the sex for later.

‘And all the roads we have to walk are winding, and all the lights that lead us there are blinding’

Excursus 1: Railways

Neal, Matt’s training incumbent, has pictures of steam locos in his study. Matt asks, as many others have, what is it about clergy and railways? Before I answer, let me make one thing clear, there is only one railway company that counts, the GWR, God’s Wonderful Railway. All the rest are heretics and schismatics. And by the GWR I don’t mean the contemporary west country mainline operator. I’m talking about St Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s original.  Railways are about a social and technological revolution that transformed the country. They imposed an order on the land, they standardised time, allowed everyone the opportunity to travel, made it easier for people to find love, work, their place in the world. Railways also involve complicated and powerful pieces of big kit, they have smoke that rises like prayer, they have speed, and they have mystery. There are varying liveries, almost like liturgical colours, there are the fierce rivalries between the railway companies – which are not dissimilar to differences in churchmanship, they are about nostalgia and preservation, about a time when it feels as if everything was better in the land. If you include railway modelling, which many clergy (and churchwardens) are deeply into, then there is the opportunity to restore order into the world, create a new kingdom, perhaps even act as the hand of God. There are abstruse codes to be adhered to for the sake of accuracy, rules to be set, power to be controlled. But the best layouts are those that stick not to the letter but to the spirit of a time and place, they are the ones with a subtle sense of playfulness, a joy in their construction, an understanding of what the viewer might enjoy. They are also the ones with the deepest discernment of the social situation of their setting and they blur the boundaries between reality and imagination.

‘We’re all of us stars, we’re fading away’

Now back to our Matt. I’m sure he won’t mind if I borrow a phrase from JFK to describe him, one about the energy, the faith, the devotion. Energy is never far from the surface – whether the passion with which he is pursuing an argument, a tackle on the football pitch, crowd surfing at a gig, supporting his friends, telling strangers about Christ. This energy is generally a positive. He runs a marathon, travels abroad, plays football and cricket for various teams, gets to the heart of whatever action is going. It becomes problematic when he dives into excess – the drinking, the partying, the out and out hedonism. The Christian faith should be constantly bubbling over with joy. Glum Christians are one of the biggest turn-offs there is. But joy is merriment, drunkenness is hideous excess. When channelled into projects, evangelism, caring for his family and friends, it is potent and powerful, Kingdom-building. He professes to worries that life within the confines of the C of E will drain that energy away, but thankfully he is destined to be a pioneer minister – one testing the edges of liminality and the boundaries of the Church. It is a good place for him to be, building new communities on the streets of Hull. It fuels his ministry to men, his ability to talk to them emotionally and about the stuff they fill their lives with. But he mustn’t forget that there are many other folk in other walks of ministry also brimming with energy and passion who use it in different, less shouty and overt ways. With his over the top manner he has a tendency to write off the rest of his fellow clergy as mouldy old dough. Soft and soggy, tasteless and unappetising. Sure, some might be. But many of us are just different and God is working through, and with, our gifts and weaknesses accordingly.

I guess I must have a reasonable amount of energy. I work 6+ days per week at 2 jobs – as a parish priest, and as a bookseller.  I roll into bed when I’m too tired to keep going. My evenings are filled with meetings and prep. On the whole I enjoy it all. I would enjoy my hobbies as well but they are part of the sacrifice you have to make for ministry. Like holidays – which I see as a rich person’s privilege, not a right anyone can expect. Of course, unlike Matt, I don’t have children to worry about. What gives me energy is debate and exploration, music, liturgy and a good day out with my dearest walking, watching and chuntering.

Matt’s faith is huge – faith in Christ, faith in his family, faith in himself. He is big on prayer, it is one of the most significant sources of his energy. He is a ‘Pray Until Something Happens’ sort of person, surrounded by fellow ordinands who all seem to think in the same way. If they need it to happen then God will sort it. There are limits to this view, and Matt reaches them with his beloved Aunty Lynne. She has cancer, severe and rampant. He prays and prays that she will be healed, but she dies. His close knit family is devastated. He never quite reconciles what happens with what he prays for. But perhaps he lives out the opening growth of a different sort of healing, with the family and for the family, when he takes his Aunt’s funeral – his first one – the occasion (good liturgy, it doesn’t have to be the authorised words, but rituals that work for the people and situation) is moving and poignant, full of love and joy as well as sorrow. He prays at any time, in any place, with anyone. His is a very active form of prayer, a sort of Rambo version, very muscular and forceful. Contemplative prayer is not something you associate with his appetites, yet he finds time with his spiritual director calming, re-shaping, affirming, relaxing into the presence of God. That strikes me as a great testament to the depth of his faith. Beneath the bluster something deep is going on and he is drawing on rich reservoirs of the Spirit.  Indeed, it takes very little scratching of his faux anti-academic persona to find a perceptive reader. We share some likes – David Bosch, Walter Brueggemann, Vincent Donovan, Rowan Williams, John Donne, R.S. Thomas – and for some of the same reasons. Writers do catch his breath, open up his mind, no matter how much he might protest to the contrary, although his reading is far more typically middle brow Anglican than he would like to admit (and it would have been nice if Immanuel Kant could have had his name spelt correctly).

‘Walking to the sound of my favourite tune’

Excursus 2: Music

OK, I’m no fan of Oasis. They make a sound that grates against my ears, offends my sensibilities, makes me shiver with disgust. They might be a great band but they totally fail to connect with me. There’s interesting stuff going on in the lyrics of Oasis, but the music and the attitude is crass, unsubtle, nakedly posing. They make such a relentlessly upbeat sound that it reminds me of nothing more than second rate ‘contemporary worship music’. You know the sort of thing – all emotion and no mind.

They aren’t bad. I can see that their strutting and sentimentality fits with Matt’s upfront personality. If you like jolly music, then they are fun to wig out to. Once you cut through the overloaded preening in the chords there are meaty stories unfolding – heartache and pain polished into nuggets of swaggering manliness. But, oh, Manchester can, has, done much better. With one gloriously rambunctious album the Stone Roses rendered Oasis redundant before they had put a lick together. Happy Mondays did the attitude and blokishness better, the Smiths told finer, earthier stories with more lyrical and musical inventiveness, the Fall have ploughed a totally individual course with more élan and greater vision and St Ian Curtis  of Joy Division reached heights of musical divinity that are still to be surpassed.

I wrote my dissertation for ordination on the spirituality of punk and post punk music. Lines from the Clash and Joy Division creep into most of my writing, especially sermons. That I treat Joy Division with the same sense of awe and adoration which Matt reserves for Oasis is probably the strongest  pointer yet to the divide between us. Joy Division were the voice of my generation. Their music hasn’t dated and is far more influential than Oasis will ever be. Curtis tapped a vein of ennui and Gen X abandonment, an understanding of the powerlessness of the individual, a rage against the machine, that is still completely in tune with those who look out and in and see brokenness. Oasis might have howled at the moon but they were still looking with a hope that Joy Division understood was false. Matt is an optimist, I am a realist. Moreover, Joy Division weren’t without their swagger and attitude, it is just that in Curtis they were both blessed and cursed with a poet of mythic status. Liam and Noel are not fit to unlatch the strap of his sandals.

For me the early nineties were a time when music was beauteously, bruisingly fractured. Subpop had peaked, Nirvana had sold out. Sonic Youth and Swans were providing the power, the knuckle under the skin, the edge of darkness, the cracks where the light could seep in. Dance music was in the ascendancy and while New Order could cross borders, lyrically they were not a patch on Joy Division. It was left to Spacemen Three to provide a British spirituality, a post Jesus and Mary Chain slab of fuzzy bliss while Primal Scream had just made the transition from indie rockers to dance/rock shamans. Nick Cave was building a theology, Massive Attack a following and Oasis were nowhere on my radar. They had nothing to say to me then and nothing now. Their codpieces were empty.

Matt talks about Bob Dylan being the psalmist of our times. He may be right, although Neil Young might say something about that. As might Son House, Robert Johnson and many of the original Delta bluesmen. And Bob Marley, Mikey Dread, U Roy, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and a whole host of reggae and dub plate stars whose music was born out the cries of an outcast people, sings with their pain, with the thump of the oppressors’ boots, with the sweet ache of redemption.

Music – it has the power to splinter barriers, to open gateways, to heal wounds, to open eyes. Such a shame that since the Wesleys virtually all the truly transcendent, truly awe-inspiring explicitly Christian music has come from those we might call the classicists – Britten, Pärt, Tavener, et al – and the populist composers have been left peddling soft saccharine pastiches of contemporary music, songs which go light on theological insight and heavy on emotional blackmail, that pull at the heart strings while disengaging the brain.

‘I don’t believe that anybody  feels the way I do, about you now’

Devotion. Matt is a man of great devotion. To Jesus, to his family and friends, to the world he is called to serve and above all to his wife Anna. His devotion is fierce, full-bodied and full-bloodied. It is potent and a key driver of his spirit. It is great – can’t be faulted – a joy to behold. He communicates it well in the diary, on all levels. Perhaps it is the best part of him. Yes, his arrogance can hurt those he loves, but he has enough support structures in place – during the time of the book, and I hope still today – that he is soon pulled back on course to loving and caring for those folk who matter most to him. When he hurts them, when he steamrollers on despite their worries, he is soon halted by their pain and is at serious pains himself to get it right, to uphold their needs. Matt is a man with a great capacity to love and to be loyal.

‘Comin’ on strong’

Excursus 3: Sex

Erm, as often as he goes all scatological on us, Matt also goes a bit squelchy. Not at the same time. But throughout the diaries there is a catalogue of ‘a little stick of Blackpool rock’ nudges and winks. He likes to let us know that he has been at the lovemaking. Which is kinda sweet – it is testimony to his deep devotion to Anna – he loves her, he desires her, through all the, um, ups and downs of the diary years and he wants to express that love physically. I told you before, Matt likes bonding and this is the best, and most fun, way to bond.  The fact that his allusions to intimacy are clunky makes them feel genuine, I just hope that Anna has not simply agreed to the rhythms of their loving being made public but is comfortable with it. Such physicality is a key part of married life – Matt’s right, it needs to be woven into the whole story. I guess his arrogance has led me to not quite trust his motive.

Then there is the assertion, made at Cranmer, that if you rate your own sexual attractiveness on a scale of 0-10, as soon as clergy put on a dog collar their rating goes up by 5 points. But really, how ridiculous. It has never crossed my mind that a little strip of stiff white linen would make me more attractive. Indeed dwelling on my, rating my, own ‘attractiveness’ has never been an occupation I’ve indulged in, I’ve always simply assumed it was 0.

‘Some might say that we should never ponder on our thoughts today cos they hold sway over time’

Now to tackle what is, for me, the elephant in the room – childlessness and IVF. It is the one area of the book which I cannot get my head around. I am married, we have not had children. I know many other couples who have not had children. Most of us would not say that we are childless. We have not had children.  There is a big difference. I cannot presume to speak for other people on this subject – especially not my wife. All I can say, for both of us, is that if it had happened then we would have done our best to be good parents. But it did not and because for neither of us it was a burning issue and we have always been on a low income, we never did anything to resolve why it hadn’t occurred. I will add that for myself it was also a question of not wanting to add to the burdens of an overcrowded planet. What gives me the right to promote my own species at the expense of countless others? I would take this further and argue that infertility is part of nature’s way of regulating populations. When a population rises to an exaggerated level so that it is in danger of rendering an ecosystem non-viable then all sorts of regulatory mechanisms kick in. We have no natural predators to cut back rising numbers. Conflicts, along with pandemics and infertility are part of that checking system. Stating it so baldly is hard. It feels counter to everything we are told. Yet our own success as a species threatens to be our undoing unless we can find a swift but gentle way of helping our numbers to slow down and drop. Christ died for all creation, not just one species. The Kingdom is about the restoration of the divine balance for the whole created order, not just one privileged element.

And yet Matt and Anna show very clearly that such a stark way of viewing our survival ignores the very real suffering of those who so want to have children. Matt is extremely strong in his portrayal of Anna’s pain at not having children. He is more ambiguous about his own feelings. This is the one time that his arrogance is put on hold – however much he might want to be a father is far less important to him than helping Anna fulfil the desire, the need, she feels in the deepest innermost part of her being, to be a mother. He is rock solid in supporting her – and his openness about the cause, his low sperm count, is part of his tackling the issue head on. Some couples can accept that to not have children is part of God’s plan for them. Some make a positive decision not to have children. For some of us that decision is also allied to a desire to support those who have had children and to help them bring them up into a loving, caring, enriching community. But Anna and Matt are among the many who are certain that children are an integral part of the process of their life and love.

What Matt chronicles here is a mixture of frustrations, humiliations, tears and hands clasped tight in clinical corridors. It is also a tale of great generosity, overwhelming love and tremendous hope. As the journey to create a new covey of Woodcocks twists and untangles so other lives end – the extended family is rent with grief, but also pulls together to uphold each member.  The rhythm of life keeps inexorably beating and among them all the Spirit of God keeps moving.

‘Maybe you and I will not believe in the things we find  behind the door’

Oh my, it is time I drew to some sort of conclusion. Do I want to sell Becoming Reverend in my bookshop? Yes, but I would rather it broke out of the Christian sphere and was readily available in Waterstones, WH Smith and on the meagre book racks in Asda, Aldi, Sainsburys, etc. Matt has written it for the community he is rooted in. Now it has to reach them. A quick glance at the website of Holy Trinity, Hull, where he is curate, shows that in the years since the diary was written he has made good on his promise to be a pioneer, to go out and be part of a team that breathes new spiritual and human life into the church community, the local environment.

Matt and I are poles apart as people and I suspect we have very different views of priesthood. My fears are that the Church wishes to mould us all into mini-Matts. Which is never going to work. And I am still struggling immensely with his arrogance. Rowan Williams has theorised that there are two kinds of egotists in the world – those that are so in love with themselves that they have no room for anybody else and those ‘that are so in love with themselves that they make it possible for everyone else to be in love with themselves. They are at home in their skins. It doesn’t mean that they are arrogant or self-obsessed or think they are in love with themselves. They have learned to sense some of the joy that God takes in them.’ (Being Disciples, p51). Where Matt Woodcock sits in this model I couldn’t say – but he is searching and travelling in God’s love. My hope is that he might become a new Studdert Kennedy, my fear is that he might be a new Chris Brain. Would I like to meet him? I’m not sure, although it would be great to have the chance to discuss the book and his ministry with him.

Now I must get back to work. I have a service to prepare using the writings of Rowan Williams, the poetry of St John of the Cross and music from You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen. Then I think I shall book myself a ticket to see Primal Scream. The fire in my heart is not out.

Lord as you will, Lord as you know. Have mercy on us, have mercy.

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One thought on “Cast your words away upon the waves

  1. Pingback: Recently Read 2016 | The Unsubtle Reviewer

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