Anthea Dove’s new book – unusually, a novel – is a thought-provoking, moving story of a priest whose day-to-day life presents him with many situations which affect us in our lives. In the very first chapter, we meet the apprehensive curate, the lonely housekeeper, the outspoken and feared seeker of justice, the critical parish leaders. In short, we are immediately in familiar territory!
The questions Fr Dan asks the nervous curate, Rupert, about the parish (‘Are people happy in the church? What are the active groups in the parish? Are lay people involved in everything?’) give us an idea of Fr Dan’s own position but as his ministry proceeds and the story progresses, he makes mistakes and wrong judgements, accusing himself frequently of failing. But we see a man who acts out of the warmth of his heart, and although we sorrow with him when things go wrong, we love him for his openness, generosity, sympathy, determination to do better when he falls down.
The story touches on almost every likely scenario in a parish priest’s life and in each case, we are left with plenty to think about. Some situations are more dramatic than others, but even where the main contention is membership of the parish council rather than a major moral or theological dilemma, Fr Dan handles people as kindly and seriously as he can even though he has his own lonelinesses and self-doubts to contend with.
Anthea writes in a gentle, clear style, revealing much wisdom as she looks at people’s pain and difficulties. She makes clear what turns out to be not important, but is not afraid to face directly moral issues which are of concern to many. The resolution of some difficulties may not be what we expect and there is not always a conventional outcome, but this is a story dealing with reality, not a fairy tale. Fr Dan comes to life wonderfully. The book is a compelling read and once started, I found it impossible to put down. It is a welcome addition to the books Anthea has given us in the past few years.
‘Father Dan: the story of an imperfect priest’ by Anthea Dove is published by Columba Press 2009.