Richard Coles is the quintessential gay English country vicar. If you didn’t know that, you simply have not been paying attention and you certainly have not been listening to his radio broadcasts. At least, that is his public persona. But there is nothing that could possibly be considered as ordinary about Richard Coles. For a start, not many country vicars played in the Communards, one of the leading, and blatantly gay, groups of the 1980s. Nor has every country parson received his training, and therefore been versed in the intricacies of Anglo-Catholicism, at the Community of the Resurrection house at Mirfield in Yorkshire. Nor does every country vicar have a regular broadcasting slot on BBC Radio Four every week. And the common or garden country vicar certainly does not receive a call from Tom Hollander, the actor, saying that he has to be quick because he is in Tom Cruise’s private jet. So he may be quintessential but he is certainly not ordinary.
One of the things that always astonishes me is that people seem surprised to discover that Richard Coles, wit, broadcaster, commentator and one-time pop star, is a deeply religious man. He is a vicar. It goes with the territory. It is part of the job description. And although he is on the front cover of this book in his dog collar and cassock, and the sub-title is “Wheat and Chaff from my Years as a Priest” some people will be surprised by the content of this book. They should not worry that they will be preached at. They may find that they are preached to, but it is not Richard Coles’ style to hector or bamboozle.
This is a charming, delightful book. It takes us through the liturgical year of the Church of England, although not in the right order as it starts with the Transfiguration, not Advent, and it includes those necessary parts of a vicar’s life in town and country – baptisms, marriages and funerals. There are so many stories about the idiosyncrasies and idiocies of parish life that you cannot help but be charmed. Richard Coles’ experiences make you realise that to be a priest you have to be a special kind of person. You do not have to like your parishioners, but you do have to love them and some of them seem to go out of their way to make that very difficult.
One of the beauties of this book is that the author does not expect his readers to understand the details of church life. He goes out of his way to explain everything in language that ordinary people will understand (and yes, I am making a reference to Cranmer’s Prayer Book). Some of the descriptions, as you would expect from this author, are downright funny. I particularly liked his describing a chasuble as a poncho. Anyone who has seen a spaghetti western will understand this.
Richard Coles is a deeply religious, deeply human man, and this book shows how he copes with his calling to be a priest in the modern world. And, in this difficult task, he is assisted by his partner David, also a priest, and by his dachshunds.