Look Back in Hope by Keith Clements
A book with a unique quality - Clements shares a human story, unpicks years of pastoral work, and records his time in an international and ecumenical environment
Look Back in Hope - An Ecumenical Life
By Keith Clements
Wipf and Stock, Eugene
Reviewer: Alec Gilmore
Inevitably, a touch of irony in the title — after 50 years in the 'ecumenical world' where else could one look for Hope, especially after Keith's devastating critique of events in the UK over the last 25 years (pp 371-79). However, that is not his message, for three reasons:
One, he is well aware that recent events are not reflective of much that is happening elsewhere. Statements by church 'leaders' and much of what goes on in church headquarters are all only part of the story. Europe, for example, offers a different narrative.
Two, 'ecumenism' is always in flux. Maybe the UK is out of step. Are we asking the wrong questions or pursuing false hopes? 'Hope', for Clements, lies less in institutions and hierarchies and more in people and local communities experimenting with how to get on together and finding ways of co-operating on generally agreed basic Christian principles, citing three examples from his pastorate in the Mid-Cheshire Fellowship (1967-71) where ecumenism was lay-led and expressed 'in very personal attitudes and actions' (pp 77-79).
Three, over the years with a variety of experiences, eyes to see, ears to listen, a heart to sense, a skill with words to interpret and an openness to appreciate what others are doing, Keith has a remarkable capacity to spot 'candles in the dark' (p 406) in people (churches and communities) as they work their way through the struggle of life, and spotting them, to nurture them.
His book has a unique quality. Nobody but Keith Clements could have written it and if this is what Philip Brooks meant by the preacher proclaiming 'truth through personality', here it is.
Part One is a very human story. A son of the manse, with parents fully committed to the Christian faith who allowed him to grow and develop in his own way till in the wider world of education (first Cambridge, then Oxford). He came to faith in his own way and stayed with it, resulting in a call to the ministry.
Part Two unpicks 20 years of pastoral work, first in a group of rural churches and then in an urban environment and academia — an apprenticeship for what was to come.
Part Three records 15 years in an international and ecumenical environment culminating in his role as Secretary of the European Council of Churches where all his gifts (languages, writing and preaching) came together.
The early chapters offer an excellent documentation of home and family life which over the years children and grandchildren will increasingly cherish. What follows is a series of snapshots of his working life – parish, CCBI, Geneva, the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa and finally Europe — a valuable historical document, not short on detail of persons, places, meetings and documents.
Essentially a pastor rather than a bureaucrat, caring and understanding but not obsessed with programmes, plans or measurable results for short-lived headlines, his major contribution seems to have been to support and encourage the people he met and to testify to their courage and witness on his return. People like Mike Nahhal of the MECC and colleagues who shepherded him in Lebanon or the little girl in Kigali who simply wanted to hold his hand as if to welcome him and reassure him, 'a touch of the future of a whole continent' in which he was 'being invited to share'. Just two of many.
The book is attractively produced with good indexing despite four misprints in 20 pages (220-42): 'CAFORD' (220),'placed' (233), 'would have wrecked' (234) and 'then' referring to 'daughters' (242).
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister
'I look back—and then forwards—in hope' An interview with Baptist minister Keith Clements, the former general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, about his memoir