10 Churches, 3 Crises, 1 God by Clifford Owen
Although this is a story of ministry within the Church of England, there is much here with which many Baptists can identify
10 Churches, 3 Crises, 1 God: Fifty years of joys and trials as a Church of England vicar
By Clifford Owen
Reviewed by Paul Beasley-Murray
“To be a person is to have a story to tell”, said Isak Dinesen, the 19th century Danish storyteller. In that regard, Clifford Owen certainly has a story to tell. True, it is not a dramatic story – but it is a story of God’s faithfulness within the inevitable ups and downs of church life. Would that we had more such stories!
A Cambridge graduate, after briefly serving as an engineer in the Royal Navy Owen served his curacy in Stowmarket, was a vicar in a growing but tough village setting in Hampshire before moving to three ‘gin and jag’ village churches in Worcestershire. Then came a stint as County Ecumenical Secretary for Worcester, which he to my surprise described as “the best job in my life”, before moving to the Diocese of Europe to look after churches in Corfu and then in Belgium.
The first crisis Owen encountered was when training for ministry at Ridley College, Cambridge, he witnessed the new principal hounded out of office by the staff in favour of their own internal candidate. As one who had a similar experience, I found this a sadly fascinating account, not least because for two years I had studied alongside the instigator of the ‘mutiny’. However, even in the mess God can be at work: for as the new principal (who was not one of the ‘revolting’ staff) later said to his predecessor: “I want you to know that I couldn’t have done at Ridley what I did if you hadn’t done what you did”.
The second crisis was one which many ministers have had to handle: viz conflict relating to charismatic renewal which ended up with two key leaders leaving the church. The third crisis came right at the end of his ministry and is one which all ministers have had to deal with: viz. Covid-19 and its challenge to church life.
Although this is a story of ministry within the Church of England, there is much here with which many Baptists can identify, for Owen is an ‘Open Evangelical’ with charismatic sympathies who in previous writings has expressed his opposition to indiscriminate infant baptism. Furthermore, there will be some ministers who will find Owen’s story of interest, for, in the words of Indian academic Sunita Sinha, “autobiographies allow other people in similar circumstances realize that they are not alone”.
Baptist minister Paul Beasley-Murray was ordained in 1970. His recent book Fifty Lessons in Ministry: Reflections after Fifty Years in Ministry was published by Darton, Longman and Todd.
Paul writes Church Matters, a weekly blog of resources for churches and ministers which has an international readership.