I’m doing a lot of extremely heavy reading about the theology of Baptist Church meetings for an essay and I need some light relief in between times. I’ve returned, as I often do, to an old favourite; the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch. This series of six novels portray the history of the Church of England in the 20th Century through the lives of some fictional clergymen (they were all men in those days!) from different wings of the Anglican Church as they wrestle with the inner and outer forces at work in their lives.
I first read them probably in the late nineties and have re-read them regularly ever since with a growing sense of understanding. When I first read them the human stories were gripping but I didn’t understand the references to theologians and theological movements, which didn’t matter in the least. Now I have done a bit of reading and so when one of the protagonists protests about Karl Barth’s influence on the neo-conservative movement I actually get what they’re talking about and I feel a little frisson of pleasure about it (that’s how sad I have become!) as well as still enjoying the tales of people trying to serve God whilst grappling with their human failings.
In my minister’s cluster we were recently discussing spiritual direction; what it’s for, the pros and cons, how to find one and what to look for in one. I said “Has anyone read the Starbridge novels, because if you have, you’ll understand when I say I want Jon Darrow for my spiritual director”. A colleague started nodding and a side discussion of the novels ensued, with us discussing which character we would want for our spiritual director!