Having just emerged from the aftermath of the suicide of an 18 year old girl from our church, it was a little odd reading a book titled, What Clergy Do. Especially when it looks like nothing. In truth, I almost couldn’t be bothered reading it. My daughter is 18 too, so it was too close to home. However, I did, and was pleasantly surprised. Emma Percy, like her husband Martyn, is sharp. However, unlike her husband she is people smart and pastoral towards clergy.
Apart from the opening chapter of the book where Emma Percy unpacks her method around the mothering as a metaphor for clerical ministry, it is all too apparent in the layout of the book. Percy’s gurus are clear from the text too, Naomi Stadlen’s, What mothers do: especially when it looks like nothing is the framework for the title and the background purpose of her work. Sara Ruddick’s, Maternal Thinking reframes the way ministry ought to be viewed in a more holistic way, and Hannah Arendt’s, The Human Condition, which introduces the idea of vita active, a clarified division and renewed understanding of the concepts of labour, work and action, along with her belief in the artificial, yet still present, division between public and private life along masculine and feminine lines (Hence Emma Percy is sharp).
Percy covers a lot of material in a short book: the balance between serving and leading; welcoming the stranger; taking care of pastoral tradition: baptism, marriage and funerals (hatch, match, dispatch); engaging congregational ministry and shared leadership. Likewise, she attends to the need for clear leadership and management within the context of constant interruptions. This last one is the story of my life. In one of my favourite books on community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote,
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans … sending us people with claims and petitions…. It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s ‘crooked yet straight path.’”
I guess I quite liked her description of being a “good enough Vicar” in the same way as it’s ok to be a “Good enough mother”. Good enough means doing well in everything that is essential. It also means clergy know why they are doing what they are doing. Too often it’s to become a famous Vicar, not a good pastor – it’s about rising through the profession and not forming the people. I learned that lesson in the most unlikely of settings. Our eldest son was diagnosed with ADHD in an era when such categorisations were unpopular. While we were attempting to understand what that meant for our parenting, the Paediatrician told us to calm down and get a grip. He said, “your roll as parents is to get your kid though childhood alive; help them develop a few good friendships; provide an adequate education, and show them what it means to be functioning citizens – as best you can”. That suited me.
Simplified, Eugene Petersen wrote, the triangle of ministry is not complicated. A pastor opens the scriptures and tells the stories of our faith. A pastor prays for the people God has given her. A pastor helps the spiritually formation of those people in all the experiences of life.
This is a good book; one that I will recommend to others at the beginning, middle and end of their ministry journeys. I will also gift it to the empire building pastors around me – I know a few. The book drew me back to my first weekend in ministry too many years ago. After four years studying dead Germans, Greek and Hebrew, missiology, theology, church history, ethics and Christian Camping (needed that one for some reason), I sat in my study on the Monday morning after a special induction service, and thought to myself, “what do I do now?” I soon learned that it was everything, and most of that everything would be invisible.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. London: HarperOne, 1978.
Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing. Kindle ed. London: SPCK, 2014.
Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.
 Emma Percy, What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Kindle ed. (London: SPCK, 2014).
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (London: HarperOne, 19781939). 99
 Percy, What Clergy Do. Especially When it Looks Like Nothing. 24; 143ff
 Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987).