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Clergy: The Origin of Species

Allen & Unwin

Drawn by the title and witty cover, I was nevertheless expecting to find this book heavy-going as it was written by the principal of a theological college, and described as a “serious treatment” of the role of clergy.

What a delightful surprise to find it provides robust research and rigorous arguments, yet in a highly practical and readable form.

Rather than an ivory tower academic, I found Percy very personable, even earthy (interrupting his discourse to inform readers that “Presbyterians is an anagram for Britney Spears”).

Perhaps the fact that Percy is both honorary professor at two theological colleges and has been an honorary chaplain to a professional rugby club best illustrates the richness of this fascinating man.

Utilising the language of Darwin, Percy sets out to explore the formation of the clergy role to date, and the risks and challenges facing clergy if they are to survive as a discrete “species”.

I actually found the book to be more about the evolution of the clerical identity, than about its origins.

Speaking from a British perspective (a welcome relief from all things American!), Percy uses two specific case studies (Methodism and Revivalism) to pose such questions as: what kind of creature is the clergyperson? Has the role of clergy been subsumed by other professions? What’s unique about the role? How must the role adapt to cultural shifts, and “the ever-mutating Christian tradition”?

What I found most helpful is Percy’s conclusion that clergy are called to ongoing incarnation; to a lifelong commitment to be transformed.

He concludes that the clergyperson’s role and task is “to become central in the more marginal and ambiguous moments of life”, and to embrace their “unique and evolving paradigm” of “belonging to both the wilderness and the city”.

I highly recommend Percy’s work to anyone involved with ministry formation.

Reviewed by Meryem Brown, a psychologist who provides professional supervision for ministers, and member of the Redcliffe Uniting Church Congregation