Book Review: Excellence In Leadership

Essays in Honour of Peter and Merrill Corney
Denise Cooper-Clarke and Stephen Hale (Eds)
Acorn Press, 2017.

Peter and Merrill Corney have had remarkable ministries from the late 1960’s until today. There are very few ministers who one could genuinely say shaped the nature of church life as we know it. I don’t think it is going too far to say that that is true of Peter and Merrill!

The 1960’s and 1970’s were times of social ferment and significant change. Church life was largely denominational and uniform in that era and many churches saw the collapse of their once very large Sunday Schools and Youth Groups. Peter and Merrill were great readers of culture and social trends. They somehow sensed what was going on and forged new models of doing church that pioneered a way to respond to those changes. Those responses were innovative in their era and then became the norm in many, many churches in the years that followed. Some of those churches probably have no idea where the ideas originated from but that doesn’t really matter.

In this tribute book we have wanted to ask two questions. First, what was the unique contribution of Peter and Merrill Corney in a range of areas? Secondly, what responses should we be reflecting upon in doing mission and ministry today?

Denise Cooper Clarke opens the book by telling us Peter and Merrill’s story. Most of us are probably familiar with some of it but not all of it. You’ll enjoy this lovely outline. Paul Perini has penned an important chapter on following on from a great one. As the one who has followed after him I should say that is still a challenge today!

One of the remarkable aspects of Peter and Merrill Corney’s ministries both prior to and at St Hilary’s Kew was it’s comprehensiveness. This book reflects some of the distinctive features of Peter and Merrill’s ministry and that is captured in the chapters presented by our 12 contributors.
This reflects the remarkable nature of what is sometimes referred to as ‘an all round ministry’. Most of us ministers are probably considered to be strong in a few areas and okay at a range of others. When reflecting back on Peter and Merrill I think one of the features was the breadth of their interests and their contribution.

So what were some of Peter and Merril’s interests. This will be a long list and is in no particular order: Preaching, Christian education, children’s and families ministries, youth ministry and outreach, leadership, women in leadership and ministry, Christian education, organisational theory and practice, evangelism and church growth, culture and sociology, psychology and well being, creativity and cultivating the arts, pastoral care and the small group movement, justice and mercy, marriage, family life, cross cultural mission, generations and cross generational ministry, camping, music, church finances, governance, politics and international affairs, ethics, global mission and networking. (Have I missed something?)

When we say an all round ministry what do we mean? The Anglican Ordinal captures it in these timeless words. ‘Proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Seek the lost, announce God’s justice, warn and correct those in error. Encourage and build up the body of Christ, preaching the word of God, leading God’s people in prayer, declaring God’s forgiveness and blessing, and faithfully ministering the sacraments of God’s grace with reverence and care….take part in the Councils of the Church…be a pastor…be a teacher…lead the people, love and serve the people… caring alike for young and old, rich and poor, weak and strong.’ (APBA p.793) That’s a daunting list and most ordinands feel the weight of it. In God’s providence it is hard not to put a tick next to each of those areas when we reflect on the Corney’s ministries.

One of the most obvious ways Peter transformed people’s views of ministers and ministry was to move from a focus on Minister as Pastor to Minister as Leader. The dominant model in the preceding era was the model of vicar as pastor pastorum. Ministers preached the word of God and ministered to the sick and dying. It was a largely passive/reactive approach. The church was an established entity with an active constituency and the pastor was there to pastor and care for the flock. Peter through his teaching and preaching was able to re-capture a sense of the vicar being the leader of the team. The lead minister leads the staff and lay leadership teams to fulfil the churches mission and vision. All of that seems so obvious and normal these days but was radical and ground breaking in that era.

Peter and Merrill had a vision for involving children in church and of supporting parents to disciple their children. Youth ministry and outreach was a huge focus. Contemporary worship was radical in it’s era. The small group revolution was central at St Hilary’s as it grew and embraced a culture of mutual care.

Stephen Hale