Inner City Testament
John and Grace Vincent
This was a fascinating book and made much richer by having chapters by both authors independently. I did however find it rather self-congratulatory with many references to the important people he met and worked with. I think a better-balanced account of the splendid work they undoubtedly did could have come from a biographer and not themselves. It was interesting that John acknowledges, that in spite of his very left wing view of everything, he would not be a suitable politician. There were many admirable projects he started, some in very unlikely circumstances. At the end however I felt they had taken a rather 'scatter gun' approach and wondered if they would have done more good by concentrating on fewer but longer lasting efforts. This is easy to say but of course he had to do what he could in real time in the church he was in at the time, although Grace could be more independent and wide ranging.
Enjoyable but somewhat disjointed.
Regarding Inner City Testament, I found it interesting to read about someone else's ministry, the book was easy to read and not too long. However, I felt the authors mentioned the various things they were doing without often giving a lot of detail. I'd have liked to have heard more about the people they were working with. Instead, it frequently felt more like a list of things they'd done. They also mentioned a lot of people I'd never heard of. So I thought the book was okay, but not great.
I agree with much of what David and Marilyn have said in their comments. But I also have the advantage of knowing a bit more about some of the projects that John was involved in, and I know a number of the people that he talks about, though not as many as Frankie does,
The book comes across to me as John's reflection on his own life and ministry, while Grace adds much more about the impact that his activities had on her and the family, although she clearly had her own ministry. Even though I am not a family man myself, I am very aware of the challenge that it is to be both a member of a family and committed to a cause or causes that are for the good of the wider community.
John has reflected on the many different things that he has been involved in during the course of his ministry without going into the detail that is need for us to have any clear idea of how they operated or of particular challenges or their effectiveness. Each one deserves a much larger chapter than he gives to them. Some of them will have borne fruit, and others not, but he clearly leaves a legacy which is worth knowing more about.
I am particularly aware of John and Grace's fight to preserve the Trustees Savings Bank (TSB), which was a unique institution, offering an alternative model to that of the major banks (chapter 10). But the power of money and the market, much lauded by the Prime Minister of the time who said that 'you cannot buck the market', was based on encouraging competition rather than cooperation. It did not provide space for the real competition of a model that used money in a way that was very different from the norm, and so ended up by destroying a very valuable and valued institution. Whether John's conclusion that 'there is no way that historical or moral arguments could or would triumph over immediate commercial or banking interests' (page 55) is correct today is particularly questionable at a time when the whole economy is being challenged and transformed by the need to try and preserve the lives of those most likely to be affected by a virus. There is still room for hoping that morality will prevail, even if it has set backs.
Ken is right. I do know John and knew Grace quite well. John is a prophet-like man with clear ideas about where Church should be in relation to the poor and struggling. He sought ways to minister to them that took the gospel of Jesus to people where they were and this brought him into conflict with the Methodist establishment and all who thought that Church was a sacred building. Eventually his view of the Gospel was accepted as an authentic one and he was elected president of Conference.
While he was seen an unacceptable maverick, he looked to different sources of spiritual support and founded his Ashrams. These have been a source of strength and energy to many over the years. John is (like most prophets I guess) not an easy man to work with. If you followed his path he was enthusiastic and supportive, but he did not always understand that people were radical Christians in different ways. he is extremely good at getting people to do things for him over their own dead bodies!
Grace was a lovely lady, who was John's greatest supporter, sometimes modifying her own gifts and graces to carry out his vision. His book is a scrappy account of his ministry with grace's input added on, bit I thought it gave a taste of his gifts to Methodism and the wider church.
Regarding the Inner City Testament, I found it interesting but also slightly annoying. The constant list of names of people , most of which I had never heard of was irritating. I thought that John was amazing with his incredible number of practical projects undertaken, his energy & tremendous hard work. He says the key is personal passion originating in Jesus.
I liked the role Grace played in the joint ministry. She said John was mainly the Head & she mainly the Hands. Care for the family was chiefly hers. They found life richly satisfying & rewarding albeit with many challenges. What a positive attitude & a great example to us all.
John and Grace Vincent obviously did a lot of good and had interesting lives, but I found this book more of a Curriculum Vitae than a biography. I wished I had learned more about their motivation and their feelings.
Grace and John Vincent were certainly a remarkable couple with their strong faith focused on practicality rather than piety. John, especially, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good including Prime Ministers, the Pope, politicians and Presidents of Conference, as well as lifelong work alongside the poor. They championed a variety of good causes with a mixed bag of success. I was reminded of the seventh mark of a Healthy Church — does a few things and does them well; focused rather than frenetic. Maybe John was more in the frenetic category, but none-the-less, has achieved much in his lifetime driven by his belief in a radical Jesus. However, whilst their lives were impressive, I agree with Angela that Inner City Testament is more like an expanded c.v. and therefore is not a book I could recommend to potential new book club members.