There is a memorable scene from the history of the 19th-century European colonial exploration of Africa. Sir Henry Morton Stanley had been deployed from England and had trekked across East Africa searching for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. After months of searching, he finally found him, and according to the story, he famously says, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
It is with much anticipation that we turn our collective eyes toward Oxford and the Advance trip that is planned for the Fall of 2019. Along with all the sights and sounds of London, and the history, scholarship and beauty of Oxford, the one name that has been lifted up again and again to our group is Martyn Percy. Dr. Percy serves as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, he is an Anglican priest, an academic, and a reforming leader. Based on many of the essays in Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy, it appears that Percy is also seen as a pastoral figure who cares deeply about the church and her people.
In one of the essays, entitled “The Prudent Priest”, Lyndon Shakespeare describes a central tenet of Percy’s theology as understanding the “’ecclesial terroir’ that defines and shapes church communities.” He references Percy’s own focus on the way that “the ‘ecclesial terroir’, is something that a minister needs to be able to read sensitively and deeply if they are to cultivate congregational life and offer connected parochial ministry.” Another word for this is context, the distinctive setting where a pastor and congregation are located.
For pastoral leaders to thrive in ministry, understanding and getting to know the context is key, as any real ministry done in that terroir, will need to be something that can truly take root there and grow. This kind of practical, earthy ministry wisdom may seem surprising coming from an Oxford academic. However, in reading through the essays and reflections contained in this book, it becomes clear that Percy is someone whose scholarship and leadership is always pointed toward the building up of the church.
In one passage, an author reflects that “in sum, pastoral leadership for Percy is fundamentally centered on role and identity rather than any particular outcome.” This insight harkens directly back to our previous reading about the image of pastoring as mothering from Emma Percy. (It may be no surprise that the two authors share a last name).
The point that is being made about pastoral leadership is that for Percy, the identity of someone as a leader, their presence, their approach, the way that they are as they seek to minister, is as important (if not more so) than any ‘particular outcome’. This is part of Martyn Percy’s larger agenda against the ‘corporate management approach’ to church leadership, which he has worked against within Anglican church circles.
In an essay circulated online, Percy argues that “Managerialism, when it is good, and the servant of the institution, can bring valuable support – even liberation. When it is the master of the institution, however, it can be life-sapping, not life-giving; an agent not of renewal, but of ennui. Managerialism will still prod and stimulate the lifeless body, and it can give the appearance of creating movement and animation. But in truth, the Zombie Church has arrived. We are merely watching death warmed up.”
His fear is that a “zombie church”, which is still standing in body, but is empty of spirit or life on the inside is where the Anglican church is being led. The specific malaise that Percy is addressing is the management approach of church leadership, which is solely outcome and results-oriented, in the way a corporate board might be. His concern, is with the heart of the church, with its life and health from a spiritual standpoint.
Part of the reason that a book like this one, full of essays and responses has come into being, is that Percy has had a deep and wide impact on the conversations of the Anglican Church. He has been a voice that people have listened to, argued with, been offended by, and ultimately, respected over a long period of time.
Through the essays in this fine book, as well as the outside reading around Percy’s standing and influence within Anglican Church circles (and beyond), it is clear that he is a formidable intellectual force and an iconoclastic thinker. When we finally meet him in Oxford, it will be a “Dr. Percy, I presume?” type moment. I look forward to getting the chance to finally meet the one we have heard and read so much about.
Lyndon Shakespeare, “The Prudent Priest” in Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy, ed. Ian S. Markham and Joshua Daniel (Eugene, Pickwick, 2018), 101.
Martyn Percy, Shaping the Church: The Promise of Implicit Theology (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 2-4.
Lyndon Shakespeare, “The Prudent Priest” in Reasonable Radical? Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy, ed. Ian S. Markham and Joshua Daniel (Eugene, Pickwick, 2018), 103.
Martyn Percy, “On Not Rearranging the Deckchairs On the Titanic: A Commentary On Reform and Renewal in the Church of England,” Modern Church, November 2, 2016, https://modernchurch.org.uk/worship/prayer-liturgy/cremation-rite-for-unborn-children/send/32-articles/768-on-not-rearranging-the-deckchairs-on-the-titanic.