Moved by Priest’s First Love

Glynn Young, Dancing Priest, Dunrobin Publishing, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0983236351, paperback 380 pages (from $AUD14.15),
Kindle $US2.99

Reviewed by Ted Witham

I was surprised at how much this first novel moved me. The two main characters, Michael Kent and Sarah Hughes, are attractive young people who have fallen in love with each other, but who believe that Sarah’s lack of faith is keeping them apart.

Michael Kent is charismatic, an Olympic cyclist, and a theology student in Edinburgh. His life keeps turning out for the better and the better, even despite tragedy at the Olympics and other obstacles in his way. He is also good at dancing. Sarah, too, is talented as an artist, and gains recognition for her paintings late in the book.

Of course, I identified strongly with the main character: I was once a young theological student, and I once fell in love. Reading the book recaptured a lost and idealised youth.

The story is set primarily in Edinburgh, Athens and San Francisco. The sense of place was strongest in the descriptions of California and the topography of San Francisco, particularly from a cyclist’s view point. All cities, however, are exotic enough to be interesting.

Glynn Young writes about faith in a believable way, sympathetically capturing an evangelical mind-set in thought and action, and describing well the dynamics of a parish staff.

I had been so disappointed by US ‘Christian’ novels in the past, where ‘Christian’ equates to avoiding swear words and sex, but Dancing Priest is a refreshing change. Here ‘Christian’ equates to thoughtful prayer and care of others.

I had some quibbles with the Anglican aspects of this novel, the worst of which surrounded Michael’s ordination at St Paul’s cathedral in London. In most dioceses I know, the days before ordination are spent in retreat: playing tourist is a poor preparation for such a major step. (It may be that the Church of England is different precisely because it does gather candidates from all over England, some of whom may not have visited the capital). More jarring was the fact that Michael was not ordained deacon before his priestly ordination. Two-step ordination is fundamental to Anglicanism.

For the most part, however, the picture of a church that was like the real Anglican Communion, but not like it, with splits and tensions like the current ones, but not quite the same, was stimulating and entertaining.

Young’s writing has reminded another reviewer of Madeleine l’Engle, and I see the connection. But in the fresh characters, the way the plot invites the reader onwards from page to page, I was more reminded of C.S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy, only with more open emotions.

Author: Ted Witham

Husband and father, Grandfather.Franciscan, writer and Anglican priest.

4 thoughts on “Moved by Priest’s First Love”

  1. You’re very spot on Ted about being in retreat be 4 ordination, and yes i agree Ordination to deacon is vital prior to priestly ordination. In S.Africa; Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the ordinands are in retreat right up to the Friday night, and then enter the Cathedral on Saturday in silence.

    1. I guess a novelist can “change” things in his world to suit the story he is telling: it just seemed to me to detract from the spiritual power and purpose of the ordination in the novel – as well as in the real world.

  2. Ted – thank you for this fine review. I was excited to see the book had an Australian reader!

    As to the ordination question: I did research the C of E process, and was aware of the usual retreat prior to ordination. I changed it for two reasons – one was the overall length of the manuscript, which had a tendency to keep ballooning; the other was to develop the relationship with the brother. And there are hints of a church in decline, and especially financial decline, which meant that a lot of traditional practices had gone by the wayside.

    Thanks for pointing it out – and allowing for novelist license.

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