It took me a couple of chapters to work out that Richard Coles was going through the year in his book Bringing in the Sheaves: Wheat and Chaff from My Years as a Priest. To be honest I have to admit part of the reason it took the first three chapters was he starts with Petertide rather than advent or January. As with a lot of things in this book there is reason for this and explanation given, (for the strange churchy words as well as the structure). The structure of the book is this version of the liturgical year – with hatching, matching and dispatching, thrown in there too.
It also took me a few chapters to get a hang of what type of book this was. The style of writing is quite different to his first volume of his autobiography Fathomless Riches or How I Went from Pop to Pulpit. Where as that is based around anecdote and self-reflection with a bit of education mixed in this is a much more focused book. It has the clear purpose of raising religious literacy amongst its readers whilst giving the stories and titbits of gossip which keep it interesting for those whose tastes might generally be a bit more low brow.
Besides an unpacking of the meaning of different parts of the church year and the anecdotes there is also a rich seam of history running through this book. Coles looks at the lives of a range of saints too and demonstrates his pure passion for as well as in-depth knowledge for church history.
Having read the first books reflections on his time at Mirfield I was surprised that it got mentioned so often in this volume, as somewhere he had chosen to revisit.
He is still the wonderful camp guy making the point that he is determined to be open about his sexuality, yet he is also the happily “married” (legally civil partnered) guy who shares his life with the man he loves and their dogs.
The broadcasting career is in there but more interesting are his anecdotes relating to “ordinary” folk he comes across in the course of his ministry which has been to the very rich, the very poor and the standardly middle class.
So is it worth the read? Definitely but be prepared that this is much more Guardian Review than the Saturday Guardian Guide in style.
It is touching in places, particularly when he talks of his dad’s Parkinson’s, hilarious in others and overall enlightening. You learn lots without feeling that you are being hit over the head with it.
The overall feeling of this book is it is the one which Coles wanted to write. The one which enables him to write a theology book for the masses. Thus the biggest feeling I came away with was this guy has integrity. He’s not playing games, he’s writing the book he wants to. He is not worried it’s probably too faith based for some people outside the church and too honest for some in it. That’s what makes it so good, in my opinion – it’s an honest book written by a clever bloke who got famous through low culture but really has a heart for high culture.
Note: I have also posted this on my Learning from Hagar blog