BOOK REVIEW / A colourful cocktail of British clergy: 'Revelations: The Clergy Questioned' - Mary Loudon: Hamish Hamilton, 9.99

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The Independent Online
MARY LOUDON'S new book hit the front pages thanks to the Archbishop of Canterbury's state- of-the-nation reflections. But it turns out to be a tame collection of interviews with a dozen Anglican clerics. Revelations oscillates between two distinct styles of interview. Most of the book is taken up with verbatim accounts of what her subjects have said, and thus Loudon is apparently taking a back seat. But clearly the interviewees are responding to her own agenda, and refer continually to her own upbringing, prejudices and lack of religious faith.

The result is (in contrast to her enjoyable book on nuns, Unveiled) an unhappy hybrid. In its better moments it tries to uncover the soul of the Church of England, yet it also returns too often to pet subjects - race, homosexuality and the existence (or not) of God.

Revelations is essentially a book of transcripts. It is dictated by the people it features - two archbishops, three bishops, two women priests, two Aids campaigners and three colourful vicars - with all the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach.

Though more than 400 pages dedicated to the credos of a dozen clergymen and women may sound about as interesting as a report from General Synod on how many angels can dance on a pinhead, Loudon has tracked down some interesting contributors. As well as George Carey, this eclectic collection features the normally austere John Habgood, Archbishop of York, unveiling his love for Philip Larkin's poetry, a Manchester vicar with a

pony-tail and a penchant for motorbikes and a Scouse minister who is into Blondie.

Mary Loudon clearly has a talent for putting people at their ease. David Randall, the pastoral director of Cara, a Christian Aids ministry, talks movingly and very personally about his own struggle to reconcile his faith with his homosexuality and about coming to terms with being HIV positive. David Perrett, a Nottinghamshire vicar with a knack for getting up the noses of the church establishment, won me over completely with his account of how his vocation has survived in an institution that still has a touch of old school tie and the Athenaeum.

But by interview seven or eight, I found myself endlessly flicking back to try to match up George Carey's thoughts on the way ahead for the Church in an increasingly secular age with Hugh Montefiore's or the Rev Susan Cole-King's. Remarks were too often left hanging in mid-air. For instance, Dr Habgood describes the Eighties as 'dispiriting . . . with Thatcherism and all that'. Without bothering to explain what 'all that' might cover or what his personal objection to it was, he skips on to reveal that the Church 'learnt some political lessons', with a similar absence of precision.

A strong introduction or conclusion might have gone halfway to solving this lack of focus, but the first 30 or so pages of Revelations alternate between Loudon's curriculum vitae and a bluffer's guide to the Church of England, full of statistics but short on an overview. Those who battle on to the end in the hope of seeing the light will be dismayed when the book stops abruptly without so much as an index, let alone a 'thus we see . . .'

Perhaps after spending 18 months in the company of her interviewees, Mary Loudon succumbed to that admirable but sometimes fatal Anglican disease of compromise. Revelations is not quite a personal pilgrimage, nor a dispassionate survey of the current state of play in the Established Church, but a rather insipid cocktail of the two.