'Adrian Plass and the church weekend'
“My alter-ego regularly gets carried away, but always comes back to earth”
Adrian Plass has been a firm fixture of the British Church for over two decades, providing a humorous take on the many strange and ridiculous things that happen within the confines of Christianity. Best-known for his fictional alter-ego, he has just released the latest instalment: ‘The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend: Volume 6′.
After over two decades of writing about the fictional “Adrian Plass”, do you view him with exasperation or affection?
Both really. In broad terms he is not unlike the real me. All the best sit-coms have a strong component of ‘rue’. There is something quite endearing about those in whom ruefulness invariably follows unfounded self-importance and a level of confidence that is more optimistic than realistic. My alter-ego regularly gets carried away, but always comes back to earth, mainly because he is surrounded by kind, sensible people. And that’s okay.
It seems to be as a reader that through the words of ‘Father John’ we hear the words and opinions of you, the author. Is this a fair supposition?
To an extent, yes. There is an interesting aspect to this question in the context of the latest Diary. When I allowed Father John to ‘speak’ in the course of writing, he seemed to have views that, although close to mine, landed in a slightly different place, and went beyond my previous thinking. This sometimes happens with characters that really live in one’s imagination, and the process is truly fascinating.
Doreen Cook had some real struggles in earlier books. Have you thought about what might have happened to her?
I hope she has found peace. Her husband certainly has.
You are obviously well-known for using humour. How effective do you think it is in considering the ‘big questions’ of life?
My wife and I have learned that two things are immeasurably helpful to those whose lives have been devastated. One, unsurprisingly, is love, especially when expressed as kindness. The other is laughter. Laughter is not the poor relative of ‘serious ministry’. Very recently a lady who had listened to me talking rubbish for an hour told me that she had not laughed for three years until that evening. Somewhere Father John says that God is more dismayed by our religion than by our sin, and I agree. People need the meal, not the recipe.
What sort of audience do you have in mind when you are writing?
One, lovely, slightly hurt person with a wry sense of humour and a smallish reservoir of hope. We get on really well.
There is something very British about the ‘Sacred Diary’ books. How is your material received outside of the United Kingdom?
Hardly at all in America. Speaking in person works very well there, but the books have had only limited success. Surprisingly, to me and just about everybody else, there was a huge market for the original Sacred Diary in Germany when it was first published, and that country continues to be a place where my books are widely read. I have toured there on behalf of my German publishers almost every year since the late eighties. We have also travelled to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and a number of European countries over the last twenty-five years. Christians in many of these places have said, ‘You must have been in our church. All those characters in your books live right here…’
How do you think the Church has changed since you started writing the ‘Sacred Diary’ books?
I seem to find a much greater desire for realism and sanity in groups of believers nowadays. However, the problems of money, power and sex still bedevil the church, and the grasping of power is probably the most pernicious of these. Bonhoeffer said that when Jesus calls a man, he calls him to die. Believing this and acting on it is not easy for any of us (and perhaps particularly, leaders who inherit church communities) who are more excited about themselves than about God. Nothing is easy. We live in a Post Modern Christian world where barriers, edges and boundaries are more blurred than they have ever been. If in doubt, be kind. That’s good theology.
How would you describe your view of the Church and Christianity?
The real church is still the people, of course, and we go on hoping and yearning and succeeding and failing and believing and doubting, just as we have for the last two thousand years. Bless us.