30/12/2017

Leaping the Vicarage Wall (by Ronni Lamont)

We got to know Ronni Lamont and her husband many years ago, when working on a Christian arts workshop for teenagers. Although we lost touch, prior to Facebook, I was aware that she had written some books, and also that she was later ordained, and worked in the Anglican church. I saw a recommendation for this book on another blog, and found it recently on the Amazon marketplace.

‘Leaping the Vicarage Wall’ is an honest, and in places eye-opening account of life as a vicar. Ronni has in fact left parish ministry, and this book explores some of the reasons why clergy sometimes resign as church ministers. There’s no mention of any of them losing their faith (although that may well happen); many of them are still involved in ministry in a broader way. Nor is it about vicars who are thrown out due to bad behaviour. Instead, this book is an attempt to understand why so many, after perhaps a decade or more as a parish priest, decide that their call is elsewhere.

The style of writing is fairly informal, with explanations of many jargon words and phrases that are used. Most were familiar to me; I grew up Anglican, and one of my brothers is a vicar, so I have some understanding of the hierarchies in the Anglican church, and how they generally function. Still, it was interesting to see it explained from the point of view of someone who went through the selection, training and ordination process.

After a chapter about the author’s personal journey, there’s another which looks at typical parish life: the expectations of what a clergy-person does, and how the church works within its own parish, and the wider bounds of the Church of England. There’s then a chapter about personality typing. Myers-Briggs, with which I’m most familiar, is mentioned as a helpful tool in understanding other people, and other tests and systems are also mentioned. It’s clearly a topic that is of interest to many, although I had a sense that it didn’t quite fit with the rest of the book.

Later chapters look at training, and how it’s done in the Anglican church. As with any kind of training, there are positives and negatives. There’s a good balance of factual information and personal accounts, as well as some honest critique of the system, which evidently differs widely depending on where the ordinand goes to college, and where their first placement is. There's a chapter looking at different people who have left the Anglican ministry, with a variety of reasons; for balance, there's also a chapter looking at clergy who have remained, and who are enjoying their work.

My only real problem with the book was that there were some proofing errors which should have been caught by the editor. To have small numbers in digits rather than words is distracting, breaking the flow of the text, and this happens a lot. There are odd spelling errors too, and the occasional missing word or awkwardly worded sentence that should have been made clearer. Still, there aren’t so many that it becomes unreadable, and it was usually obvious what was meant.

The book is well-referenced at the back, and there are several appendices which I skimmed; the most interesting was the mission statement of one of the author’s churches. Names of people and some places are mostly changed to protect privacy.

While the focus is on the Anglican church in the UK, many of the issues - such as clergy burnout, lack of privacy, difficulty of making friends - would be relevant anywhere. Suggestions are made that could help in many cases.

Overall I thought it a very interesting read, one that should probably be read by anyone considering ordination, or starting out in church ministry.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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