Becoming Reverend: A diary by Matt Woodcock

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Becoming Reverend: A diary by Matt Woodcock

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The journey of a pub-enjoying, humorous ordinary bloke journalist from realisation to pub-enjoying, humorous, pub-enjoying, ordinary bloke clergy. A no-holds barred account that's funny, touching and very accurate; if you liked the TV series 'Rev, you'll love this.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Church House Publishing
ISBN: 978-1781400104

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Matt Woodcock is enjoying life: successful journalist, happily married and a new dream home bought and heavily mortgaged. The only cloud on the horizon is their struggle to have children but they have faith in the IVF treatment as it's early days yet. Then comes the funny turn Matt has on the way to a story one day. This takes him by surprise but the resulting clergy collar comes as a total shock. He's a normal bloke who always thought of himself as more pint than piety believing in a God who's happy for him to remain in the pews. Errrrm… whoops!

As a clergy spouse (as we're nattily known in the trade) who married a social worker and ended up with a vicar after a very similar process to Matt's, I picked this book up with a certain amount of curiosity. I was half expecting a 'journalist saw the light and became transformed' type tale but thank goodness, it's nothing like that! Matt feels as much surprise and shock as anyone that he ended up on the altar side of the pulpit, making the whole book very compelling as well as entertaining.

After his initial consternation at getting through the Ely treatment as it was known in our house (a 3 day clergy assessment panel), despite the toilet episode, Matt faces theological college. In his case it's Durham but the location doesn't seem to make any difference to the experience. For there follows stories ringing true in every detail, echoing the feelings of my particular espoused vicar and, I would suggest many others. The feeling of isolation and not feeling as pious as the more 'serious' students is a recurring motif. In fact at one stage Matt mentions that drinking with one fellow ordinand (students pre-ordination) is like having a pint of Black Sheep with Moses. But it's not all dour: Matt's natural tendency to giggle comes to the fore fairly regularly during inappropriate moments. For instance the counselling classes when trying to practice the listeners' trademark head tilt pose. (Actually, a top tip for testing any C of E clergy's humour is to tilt your head to one side and ask them how something makes them feel.)

Matt's honesty should be applauded as much as his sense of humour. He relates the problems of the split household, especially the two different lives during term time having to move to different routines again during college holidays. In their case there's the added poignancy of the heart-rending problems at home. There's normally an adjustment when your partner chooses any different career mid-marriage but going from congregant to clergy is a change in lifestyle for the entire household and can only be worsened and complicated by the tragedies that the Woodcocks go through.

Matt's writing style is chatty and highly accessible showing the full spectrum of feelings. Through it all the Woodcock family shows an indomitability of spirit that many would say comes from strength of character and others would attest is from faith. It's not an airy fairy faith though, but a demonstration of the practical that works alongside personality, with all its failings, rather than subsuming it.

Matt ensures we can be guffawing one day and sobbing the next. On one level it's the record of the path from church goer to clergy but its value is greater than that. It dispels the stereotypes that clergy have laboured under for decades from Trollope to Derek Nimmo and Richard Curtis. There's almost a Rev inspired movement towards an honest window into the lives of our churches and associated professions. Matt's diary is another step into that honesty. So whether you're interested in the clergy process or just want to know what possesses a person to defined by a strip of white plastic (or white paper in clerical emergencies) you've found the right place.

(A huge thank you to Church House Publishing for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals then also try the fictionalised variety in The Rev Diaries by Reverend Adam Smallbone. It may be exaggerated slightly for laughs but it still rings so very, very true!

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