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Ten Books I Would Save From the Fire

By Alun Brookfield.

Having recently had to move my whole private library to a different room, I'm perhaps more sharply aware of the real 'treasures' than I would otherwise be. In making my choice, I assume I'm allowed a Bible and Shakespeare in addition to these ten. If a Bible is to be allowed, please let it be the Contemporary English Version (Into the Light) - it's the only one that I can readily understand without the need of commentaries, lexicons and dictionaries, and it's by far the best modern translation for reading aloud!

Now what about the other ten books? Rather than think only of feeding my intellect, I have tried to think which books I would need in order to continue life and ministry with the minimum of disturbance. So the list that follows is a list of books I return to at regular intervals to feed not only my intellect, but also my soul and my creativity.

First, I would certainly risk my life to rescue my copy of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. I know of no other book on my shelves, aside from the Bible itself, which has had such a profound effect on my inner life with God. This little book opened my eyes to the possibility of spiritual life beyond the traditional 'quiet time' and continues to challenge me even now - 15 years later.

Two books of daily office material would come next, especially as they occupy a nearby shelf to the Foster. As I write, the new Anglican book, Common Worship, has yet to be published, so I am forced to look elsewhere. The Book of Common Order, the service book of the Church of Scotland, contains some of the finest prayer and worship material that I know, much of it bearing the pastoral, but down-to-earth, imprint of the Convener of the panel which gathered and collated the material, the Revd John Bell of the Iona Community. John's prayers, like his sermons and lectures, are filled with refreshing and unexpected ways of reflecting on the issues of the moment.

The other daily office book would be Celtic Daily Prayer, the office book of the Northumbria Community, of which my wife and I have been members for a number of years. Saying the office of the Community has become such an important part of our daily routine that this book, along with the one above, would be essential if we were to maintain a sense of perspective as we watch the rest of the house burn to the ground!

I confess to not being the world's most enthusiastic reader of theological books, but William Abraham's The Logic of Evangelism would probably find its way into my rescue box, along with Richard Lovelace's The Dynamics of Spiritual Life. These two books, more than any others, have influenced and defined my thinking about the mission of the Church and have enabled me to see evangelism as being much more than the public declaration of the gospel and the making of converts. They reflect, perhaps unconsciously, the alleged dictum of St Francis: "Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words".

I am an avid reader of autobiographies, especially of people who have had a significant influence on the life of their own culture and/or nation. If I could save three, it would be Richard Branson's Losing my Virginity, Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom and John McCarthy and Jill Morell's Some Other Rainbow, the story of McCarthy's imprisonment in Lebanon. All contain the best elements of autobiographical writing - disarming honesty, fascinating background detail, compelling storytelling and a powerful sense of engagement with the world. Forced to rescue only one, I think it would be that of Nelson Mandela, purely because few people in my lifetime have made such an impact from such an improbably weak power base.

I could not leave the burning house without a novel or two. Among my favourites are Susan Howatch's six Starbridge chronicles - rarely has the Church of England been portrayed with such feet of clay, yet at the same time with such triumphant faith. But to rescue one without the other five would be too difficult. So I think I would make a grab for my omnibus edition of The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis. Yes, I know they are children's stories, but I hope that I never become too adult to enjoy them, or that my congregations never become bored with hearing me illustrate my sermons from them!

Three more to go, and since I would want some continuity of learning between my life pre- and post-conflagration, I am certain that I would take my Welsh language study notes with me. Having worked to master the language for more than three years now, mainly so that I can access the 1000 years of poetry, prose, theology, drama and music written in the mother-tongue of my forefathers, I would want to continue that process. The notes are not exactly a book, but they are such a rich source of inspiration to me, that I hope readers will indulge me on this point, especially as the course I am studying is now out of print. I believe that no-one should be deprived of the right and ability to say "Jesus Christ is Lord" in the language of his forefathers.

On the assumption that the fire which destroyed my house would also rather wreck my garden, I would summon all my strength and take the Royal Horticultural Society's huge and weighty Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers. Just 'leafing' through the pages is a delight, but it would be an essential tool in planning the new garden. And without a garden, I would soon be so wound up that any kind of ministry to people would almost certainly be unsustainable!

Finally, I could not leave a burning house without something to make me laugh at those moments when ministry is tough. So into the box would go Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. This little volume, together with its three sequels, never fails to amuse me with its surreal, bizarre characters (e.g. Marvin the depressed robot and Slartibartfast, the white mouse who won an award for designing the fjords of Norway!) and improbable view of the future. But most important of all, the book reveals, on page 135, the answer to life, the universe and everything!

The Revd Alun Brookfield is a Parish Development and Stewardship Adviser in the Diocese of Bristol and is editor of Ministry Today.

Alun Brookfield

Editor of Ministry Today

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You are reading Ten Books I Would Save From the Fire by Alun Brookfield, part of Issue 21 of Ministry Today, published in February 2001.

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