Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy, by Nigel Peyton & Caroline Gatrell. Reviewed by Richard Steel
Managing Clergy Lives: Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy, by Nigel Peyton & Caroline Gatrell.
Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013, 200pp, ISBN 978-1-4411-2125-7, £17.99
Reviewed by Richard Steel This book ‘explores the commitment [of Anglican Parish Clergy]…. Affirms their positive staying power… [and how] they pay the price of lost intimacies and sacrifice their own needs and desires.’ It began life as the doctoral thesis of Nigel Peyton, who has been a Parish Priest, Archdeacon and is now Bishop of Brechin. His co-author is Senior Lecturer at the Lancaster University Management School.
The source material is 46, ‘semi-structured’ interviews of clergy from across England – differing ages, both genders, single and married, but all Rural (Area) Deans. This ensures a good variety of opinions from those who might be expected to be among the more experienced clergy, but limits it to those who are full-time and paid, when an ever larger proportion of clergy are ‘voluntary’, often in full-time employment in other jobs. Research among them would make an interesting sequel. They authors acknowledge that while ‘interviews do not provide a precise mirror image’ of reality, they ‘do provide empirical data and access to the meanings people attach to their experiences and social worlds.’
The authors begin by giving the background of changes in the church in the last few decades along with an introduction to research method, then go on to details of the research, introducing the clergy and the context they work in. In chapter 3 they introduce the concept of the Panopticon (i.e. that clergy live under continual scrutiny, from parishioners as well as God!), with much reference to the 20th century French philosopher Michel Foucault. The later chapters focus on the personal sacrifices clergy make, with one focusing specifically around the issue of intimacy. The concluding chapter gives the response to the question , ‘When do you feel most priestly?’ The answers – as minister of Word and Sacrament and ‘Holy representative’, while perhaps not surprising are at least encouraging. They find a great deal of commitment but also evidence ‘that many clergy, married or single, struggle to enjoy private relationships uncontaminated by public ministry… a loss of intimacy, coping with varying degrees of loneliness and frustration.’ They identified very little despair or cynicism.
As an overview of how things are in the church today the book is both useful and insightful, with much on what ordination means to these priests. Especially interesting is the amount of discussion of issues facing women and the difference they have made, in what has been completely a male preserve until the last two decades.
To get the most from the book you need to be prepared to wrestle with a pretty dense text and a large number of references to earlier research (which makes it a useful book if you wanted to do further reading but rather heavy going for the average reader) and what seemed to me unnecessarily complex or technical language. That they can write more popularly is shown by a Management Today article from last year, compressing much of their research into little over an A4 page (http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/features/1176582/when-godceo-five-leadership-lessons-clergy/). This book would have benefitted from a little more of this style, perhaps in summaries at the end of chapters. For some reason only one had this.
By the end the book you are better informed, can clearly see how much they admire clergy. For a book that is a result of qualitative research I had hoped that more of this would be included. There are some very moving quotes, for example from the single clergy, which suggests that the book would have been more powerful with more space devoted to the stories.
Richard Steel is a clergyman of 30 years standing, and himself an Area Dean. He is Convenor of the Grove Books Leadership strand and has done postgraduate study in this area.
This review first appeared in MODEM Matters Issue 28 in October 2014