Book Review: What Clergy Do

I wrote this book review for our diocesan newspaper, but thought I would put it here as well.  

Emma Percy. “What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing,” SPCK, London, 2014.

Emma Percy is a priest in the Church of England who has worked as a deaconess, a deacon, a parish priest and a university chaplain. She and her husband (also a priest) have raised two sons, and her doctoral thesis was on the theology of mothering. In this book, she draws on her wide experience to reflect on the role and work of the clergy. Percy uses mothering as a metaphor for exploring parish ministry; not to discuss the tasks clergy do, but the attitudes and habits of thought which she sees as shared between “good enough” mothering and good parish ministry.   She integrates her own reflections with insights drawn from the worlds of philosophy, psychology, spirituality and worship.

She reflects on being a priest-in-charge, and how being “in charge” might be more about having a responsibility to care for and nurture people, than about being “the boss.” She discusses how clergy inhabit a role which is more about relationship than it is about activity; the need for attending to the concrete reality of these people in this place in order to nurture them and draw out their gifts; and issues of dependence and interdependence. She also reflects on how clergy integrate their lives and their work, and discusses the very maternal arts of “weaning” (managing change) and creating and keeping a spiritual “home.”

The maternal metaphor, Percy acknowledges, is not the only or an exhaustive one. But, she says, “it does offer a rich way of integrating the mundane and the mystical, the practical and spiritual, the being and doing, the highs and lows, the thinking and feeling, the joys and heartaches present in taking on the responsibility to care for real people in real places.”

The book is thoughtful but accessible to a popular audience, with reference to more academic works for those keen to explore the topic in more depth.

As a deacon ordained this year, and as the mother of a toddler, I found this book gave me vocabulary for the continuity I felt instinctively across those two roles. Reading it, there were moments when I thought, “Yes, it’s exactly like that!” The importance of Percy’s contribution for me is that it reflected on ministry in terms which were very familiar from my own lived experience, and gave me a richness of resources for my own continuing reflections. I would warmly recommend it for clergy looking for fresh language and insights into their work, for students preparing for ordination, and for anyone who would like to better understand what their clergy actually do, especially when it looks like nothing.


3 comments on “Book Review: What Clergy Do

  1. Very interesting to learn how denominations other than my own, prepare for professional ministry.

  2. paidiske says:

    I’m always fascinated to hear how others do things too. What are the differences in your denomination?

  3. Nelly says:

    I loved this bit in your review, a total jewel: “She reflects on being a priest-in-charge, and how being “in charge” might be more about having a responsibility to care for and nurture people, than about being “the boss.” Thank you for sharing.

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