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.