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Posts Tagged "Clergy":

The Parson in The Canterbury Tales: Geoffrey Chaucer


There was a good man of religion
Who was the poor Parson of a town.
But he was rich in holy thought and work,
And also was a learned man, a clerk
One who Christ’s Gospel faithfully would preach
And with devotion would his people teach.
He was benign, extremely diligent,
Patient in every bad predicament –
Adversity was often on him laid.
He did not like to curse for tithes unpaid,
But rather would have given, without doubt,
To poor folk in his parish round about,
Both from church offerings and his private store,
For little wealth gave him enough, and more.
His parish wide, with houses far asunder –
But he’d not fail in either rain or thunder,
In sickness or distress, to visit duly
The farthest in his parish, high or lowly,
Going on foot, and in his hand a stave.
This fine example to his sheep he gave
That first he acted, afterwards he taught
In words which from the Gospel he had caught.
And he would add to them this figure too –
That if gold rusts, then what will iron do?
For if the priest is bad – the one we trust –
Small wonder if a common man should rust.
It is a scandal – let priests ponder deep –
A corrupt shepherd keeping spotless sheep.
The right example for a priest to give
Is purity, the way the sheep should live.
He did not rent his benefice for hire
And leave his sheep to wallow in the mire
While he ran off to London, to Saint Paul’s,
To find himself a chantry there for souls.
Or in some Brotherhood to get enrolled.
He stayed at home and cared well for his fold,
So that no wolf should cause it to miscarry –
He was a shepherd, not a mercenary.
Holy and virtuous in every way,
But not despising those who went astray.
Not scornful nor superior in speech,
Discreet and gentle when he went to teach.
By kindness to lead people towards heaven,
His duty was a good example given.
But as for those who would be obstinate,
Whether they were of high or low estate,
His reprimand would be both sharp and free.
There could not be a better priest than he.
The lore of Christ and his Apostles twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himself.

This picture of an idealised parson by Geoffrey Chaucer (complete with warning of possible traps for the unwary) comes from the delightful anthology ‘Godly and Righteous, Peevish and Pervers: Clergy and Religious in Literature and Letters’ by Raymond Chapman.

George Herbert is currently blamed for setting an impossible model for his successors to follow, but he did not invent the ideal of the village priest. For this you perhaps need to look to Bede, and then this extract from The Canterbury Tales.

“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

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