How to drive the Rector of all Lewes crazy.
The Rector of all Lewes, an otherwise brilliant, thoughtful and committed priest of the Church, really, really, really likes George Herbert. I found this out by mentioning some time ago that I had been taken by the argument that old George had done the Church no good by promoting an image of the Parson that is impossible to incarnate and then leaving it to the Church to expect actual real flesh and blood persons to be the Country Parson. He was not amused.
Now I have to say, the Rector warned me that much of the "image" of the Country Parson is not George's fault, but rather a romantic overlay on what he wrote. And, to make matters worse, his poetry which is astoundingly good, feeds into the romantic possibilities as all things metaphysical do.
So the Rector was right to tell me that we can't blame our overblown expectations of the clergy on George Herbert himself. It is what the church culture has done with the parson that is the problem, not George. OK. Got it.
Still, Thinking Anglicans points us to The London Observer, where Justin Lewis-Anthony has written an intriguing essay, "Why George Herbert must die." Go on over and read it. The sub title of the essay reads, "The image of the vicar as a kindly, smiling presence, ministering to all the various needs of an ideal community, is one we must ditch."
How do we define the role of the parish priest, the rector in a small town, the vicar in a city parish, where the connective tissue of spiritual care and guidance is too complex for any one person to signify? And, using the alternate title to the Country Parson, A Priest to the Temple, how do we keep alive the priestly vocation in a world of too many temples, or none at all?
Ol' George is dead and gone, and he left us here to sing this song....and how will we sing it in a strange land. (How is that for squishing together several musical lines?)