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“Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy” – Review by Matthew Caminer



Two of my best-loved DVDs are dramatisations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.  Both paint a picture of the priesthood that is little more than the assumed profession of a younger son, or else something that could be bestowed on an unfortunate friend or relative, regardless of suitability. Thus it is possible for Lizzie to ask: “How should you have liked making sermons?” and for Wickham to reply “Exceedingly well” without there being any discussion of his vocation, and with a complete absence of the sort of scrutiny that characterises today’s Church of England as individuals offer themselves for ordination.

By contrast, Managing Clergy Lives paints a picture of ordination that is weighty, awesome and therefore, to misuse the Book of Common Prayer “not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly.”  Using the metaphor of the panopticon, Peyton and Gatrell explore the way in which our understanding of ordination has evolved, with the focus on a three-fold obligation…. obedience, sacrifice and intimacy.

The panopticon was conceived as an especially oppressive prison in which the inmates were constantly under scrutiny, and could never escape from the vigilance of their guards, thereby intensifying the ordeal of their confinement to an almost intolerable level.  Michel Foucault borrowed this concept when he coined the expression The Panopticon of Ordination”, suggesting that once ordained, clergy are under the dual scrutiny of God and of the Church, and unable to escape either.  Once ordained: always ordained.

Rather in the way that Psalm 139 (“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”) may be seen in either a half-full or a half-empty way, or both, the panopticon of ordination carries similar overtones. In terms of the practicalities of everyday life, what may seem trivial examples – the vicarage being public territory, being available round the clock, having to do more and more with less and less, and so on – are simply indicators of a far greater and more awesome commitment, to a life of obedience, sacrifice and intimacy that Peyton and Gatrell explore in some depth.

Managing Clergy Lives combines extensive literature reviews with quotations from the research group.  These bring to life the realities as seen and experienced by a panel of Area/Rural Deans, and paint a picture of life-long dedication, tenacity and endurance.  Amusing anecdotes weave their way through the text, with references also to the impact of the ordained life on clergy families and households.

If I have a quarrel, it is this. I am not an academic and the book, which is after all based on a doctoral thesis, seems to labour the literature review, with frequent citations interrupting the text, and favouring a circumlocutory approach that ensures that every T is crossed and every I dotted. Put another way, it is not a page turner, nor at £17:99 is it priced as such.

I was also a little uneasy as to whether a panel of four dozen Area/Rural deans – predominantly full-time stipendiary, and by definition successful in view of their appointment to these roles – could really be said to represent the life, challenges and travails of clergy in general. I concede that you have to start somewhere, but I felt that some of the authors’ assertions might have been less sustainable if the panel had included, for instance, self-supporting ministers, curates in training and close-to-retirement clergy who had never sought nor been granted preferment.

Why was it worth publishing? All in all, I believe that for the unordained, the awesomeness of ordination is barely understood.  I am not talking here about people being unaware of the workload and things like that; but of the underlying and overbearing imperatives that make ordained clergy who they are.  With this comes a paradox: Managing Clergy Lives does not pretend to be a populist book to enable the person in the pew better to understand the calling and challenges of their parish priest, and yet that may really be what is needed. Conversely, the sorts of people who would read this might end up feeling that it had not added a great deal to what they already knew.

So, am I glad I read Managing Clergy Lives? Yes.  Did learn from it? Definitely? Would I recommend it?  Simply put, if the concept of the panopticon of ordination correctly portrays the true meaning of ordination, then being a priest simply isn’t “just like any other profession”, and the life of the priest and the priest’s family are quite distinct. This needs to be clearly understood, and therefore, if you can cope with an academic approach, it is worth reading.


Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy

Authors Nigel Peyton and Caroline Gatrell

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

ISBN-10: 1441121250

ISBN-13: 978-1441121257

You can hear Dr Nigel Peyton and Dr Caroline Gatrell discuss this book in ‘Thinking Aloud’ with Laurie Taylor on 22 April here

The Rt Revd Dr Peyton is Bishop of Brechin and Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University. Dr Gatrell is Senior Lecturer in the School of Management at Lancaster University

4 comments on this post:

Pam Smith said...

Thanks for a very thoughtful review Matthew – I think the ‘panopticon’ image explains a lot of the stress on clergy but I’m not sure I accept this SHOULD be the case. So many clergy of my acquaintance seem to be utterly ground down, not by the huge challenges of pastoral ministry but by the little, unanswerable niggling criticisms which often amount to disappointment that the clergy person in question doesn’t fulfil in every particular the ideal held by that particular person. Hence I think it’s helpful to name the panopticon but I’m not completely sure it’s a good thing to say because this is the way things are this is how they should always be.

And as far as using area/rural deans as the sole exemplar of ordained ministry – I agree we have to start somewhere but … *bangs head on desk*

11 June 2013 10:04
Matthew Caminer said...

Thank you, Pam: a very valid response. In fairness to the authors, I don’t think they are suggesting this stress ought always to be as onerous as it often seems to be, I assume that the fact that they talk of the scrutiny coming from God AND from the Church presumably includes not just the Church authorities but also the expectations, assumptions and intrusiveness of some (‘some’ stressed!) congregations which in some ways can be just as oppressive, for clergy and family alike.

I am beginning to wonder if there is a ‘next book’ in me, something that builds on this but along the lines of “A Congregation’s Guide to Clergy Sanity” or something similar!

Pam Smith said...

That sounds like a very good idea. One of the major pressures seems to be well-intentioned attempts to focus churches on mission by Diocesan church growth initiatives etc, which almost always mean there is more on parish clergy ‘to do’ lists. I’ve been wondering for a while if it might be a helpful counter balance to produce something along the lines of ’10 signs of a dysfuctional church’ to focus congregations on healthy collaborative relationships as a vital grounding for truly healthy growth!

11 June 2013 18:40
11 June 2013 11:31
Angie Forde said...

I think that part of the reason for so much clergy stress is that the clergy too often assume the responsibility for doing all the work of the church, under the scrutiny (& adverse criticism) of God & the congregation. But the clergy are meant to equip the congregation to do the work – some of the scrutinising should be being done by the clergy!

14 June 2013 00:18

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