Emma Percy draws on her Ph.D. work and experience as a priest to describe how Church of England parish priests might function – using the model and language of motherhood. The reviewer found the female perspective a fresh alternative to the plethora of male perspective dominated writings. Despite the title, the reviewer felt the allegory was more helpful as an approach for how clergy do the ministry rather than a comprehensive list of duties and responsibilities.
The reviewer was comfortable and intrigued by Percy’s ideas of mothering around older children and the parallel between home-making and church-home-making. Percy says that with her children now older, her role is to keep the fridge full and offer them a lift when needed. Her role as a mother was to equip her children to enable them to make this happen.
Percy also highlights the tension between a focus on church growth as the marker of success and the need to ‘keep the show on the road,’ sustaining a congregation’s faith and community. While Percy is not advocating church as a cozy club, she is highlighting that much of the daily work of pastoral care is not measurable as an output – that the language of business does not have a way to measure the value of an informal chat or a home visit or a chance encounter at the grocery store. Percy’s thesis is that the language of value needs to change so that the unmeasurable – the skill of comforting, for example – can be described and valued. Much of pastoral care leaves the pastor feeling the same way as the primary caregiver of a small child, where one can spend the whole day absorbed by their care, and yet feel they have achieved nothing.
For me, this last paragraph of the review highlights the value of this source. While I may not be utilizing this source in my research on establishing coaching networks within the Vineyard’s church planting efforts, I recognize this is often the primary tension, which is often the source of frustration for so many pastors. Percy’s allegory of mothering is so helpful as a construct to balance current care along with desired healthy growth.
Percy’s maternal construct helps describe parish ministry as a way of life. She states, “Its rhythms do not conform to traditional boundaries between work and home, on and off duty, public and private space.” She goes onto explain that while healthy boundaries are essential (and yet so difficult to instill), the boundaries are often blurred and times of work and rest are not so easily predictable.
While parish ministry may not be exactly like mothering, it comes pretty close. Especially when one is the solo pastor. Especially when one’s head is full of leadership ideas and growth goals. Especially when one is not a mother. While not assuming all women pastors connect with the mothering motif, I know our male-dominated local church methodology (even among egalitarian leadership denominations) desperately needs this construct. The church planters and pastors I coach and the coaches I mentor to coach others (who are all primarily solo pastors), desperately need this construct.
Pastoring and grandparenting grow more reflective with age. Glo was way ahead of Percy when she recognized parish ministry was like mothering (back in the mid-‘80s). While Percy focused on mothering adolescents, Glo felt mothering young children (especially ones that kick and bite!) was more applicable.
Before being senior pastors, Glo and I served in small urban churches as part-time youth and associate pastors. We loved and led our flocks as best we could. Through a series of events, we pastored a rural congregation for over two years and a suburban congregation for over eleven years as their senior pastors. While each church, each community was unique, parish ministry was very much like the challenges of mothering. Like mothering, it was hard because you felt like you never measured up as a “successful” parent. Like mothering, it was often hard to find joy and see what was accomplished when your “children” (which were mostly inherited) didn’t express appreciation for your efforts. I wish I would have listened to Glo more, she and Percy are onto something significantly important.
Percy states, “Parish priests need to accept this is an inexact science – more a creative art form. Thus they need virtues rather than formulas.” I love leadership development, especially learning adaptive leadership skills for an ever-changing local church ministry context. However, I just coached a church planter this week who was frustrated about how to get his church to grow to meet his self-imposed expectations. With Percy’s text in mind, I was able to coach him to see the parallels between parenting his three younger children (plus being bi-vocational) with leading and loving his congregation. Like Percy, he elected to adjust his value of the unmeasurable and therefore, his goals for leadership and discipleship within his church.
Finally, Percy helps mothers and pastors by introducing a concept of “not being perfect but being all right!.” I mentioned earlier that pastoring and grandparenting grow more reflective with age. Perhaps because of the idolatry of perfection and excellence in our American culture, we all expect to be perfect parents and perfect pastors, producing perfect children and perfect congregations. Percy helps us all to see that the unmeasurable needs to be described and highly valued rather than always defaulting to only the measurable.
 Batts, Sarah, Book Review: What Clergy Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing, April 23, 2014 https://sarabatts.co.uk/2014/04/23/book-review-what-clergy-do-especially-when-it-looks-like-nothing/ Accessed 05/31/2019.
 Percy, Emma, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing (London, UK: SPCK Publishing, 2014) 163.
 Percy, What Clergy Do, 164.