I confess I was a little nervous about reviewing Timothy Mark’s newest book, Letters to the Contemporary
Church. Was the author trying to do a C S Lewis, I wondered, and if so, how would he measure up to the task? Well, thankfully,
that isn’t what he is trying to do here. If you were thinking Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, or even something in
the Screwtape vein, think again.
Neither is the Reverend Mark trying to do a St Paul. Whilst not shrinking from calling himself an evangelist,
he does not attempt to put himself on a higher level than the rest of us. Where he seeks to instruct, it is in the gentlest
and most effective of ways.
It is important to put the book into context. These letters were written over a period of two decades, for
the magazine of "The Church and Community of Sprotbrough", a large village near Doncaster. Timothy Mark does not, however,
restrict himself to local matters. He is not afraid to venture into the world of international politics, and does not shrink
from tackling controversial issues. In the 1990s he was talking about wheel clamping and pit closures. In the 1980s he focused
on racism and the threat of nuclear war. Always, whatever the date, he is looking for something his readership can relate
This is the secret of successful preaching. Find a subject that interests your congregation – which,
sadly, most biblical texts do not. Timothy Mark roams the byways of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, looking for old houses,
leisure centres, building sites and railway stations that will be familiar to his readers, and taking a lesson from each.
These places will not be familiar to most of us, but we will understand because we have seen something similar in our own
neighbourhood. It is the universal themes and concepts, as well as the particular objects and places, that make us take notice
of what he is saying.
Occasionally he ventures into other territory, such as the Church of South India where he was ordained. Travel
broadens the mind, and if we are wary of his attempts to discuss matters such as Islam, we at least know that he understands
what he is talking about (even more so if we have read his novel, Chusan, which was one of the first books I reviewed
for this site).
Perhaps none of it is very profound. Preachers have to take great care not to offend their congregations.
Writing it down gives them a little more licence, but they still have no desire to alienate anyone. The Reverend Mark achieves
this aim very successfully, in my eyes. Were he openly pro-Thatcher, or even pro-Blair, he would not be able to keep people
reading his column from issue to issue of the magazine – as I am certain he does.