Monday, January 21, 2008

Killing George Herbert

“If you meet George Herbert on the road – kill him!”

Thus says the ThreeMinuteTheologian over at a new blog called “Killing George Herbert.” Here’s what the site is all about:

The shadow of George Herbert’s parish ministry lingers still in the Church of England, with its completely unreasonable expectations upon its clergy today. A realistic assessment of the context of Herbert’s life is accompanied by a cool and clear-sighted exploration of the difficulties of parish life today, with a call for a more sustainable pattern in the future.

Here are some snippets from what’s been posted thus far:

For three hundred and fifty years the Church of England has been haunted by a pattern of parochial ministry, based upon a fantasy and untenable for more than a hundred of those years. The pattern, derived from a romantic and wrong-headed false memory of the life and ministry of George Herbert, finally died on the South Bank of the Thames in the mid 1960s … and nobody noticed.


But why kill George Herbert? What possible danger can the saint of Bemerton, courtier, poet and parson, pose to Christian ministers today? Is there really something more than sneering clerical cussedness going on here?The answer lies in the way that Herbert has been, and continues to be, used as an exemplar, the exemplar for the English parson. Whether you are High Church, Low Church, Evangelical, Charismatic, whatever, Herbert is portrayed as the prototype of the pastor, teacher, preacher, almoner, negotiator, gentleman, scholar. He is Ur-Vicar, the Echt-Rector.


It seems that we need to get to grips with the man behind the myth. We need to learn a little more about this Angel Gabriel in Jacobean clothes.

I think it's true that Herbert's portrayal of pastoral ministry is highly idealized in The Country Parson. That's not necessarily such a bad thing. But perhaps it's worth considering that this portrayal has, in the words of the ThreeMinuteTheologian, exacted great "personal cost ... in the lives and emotions of the clergy of the Church of England today."

I'm not in a position to adequately assess that claim, but I do find this site interesting and am curious what others think about it.

So do read it all.


Chris+ said...


It is interesting to note that Herbert exercised only 3 years of parish ministry. He starts in 1630 and is dead by 1633. Perhaps, he couldn't, literally, live up to his own expectations.

I was ordained on his feast day. Uh oh...


Bryan+ said...

Good point, Chris. It's a point also made at the "Killing George Herbert" blog when the author says "Herbert died before his parochial ministry could be compromised."