Churchgoers in the Diocese of Toronto and beyond may get a glimpse of themselves in the fictional people and parishes being written about by a local Anglican priest. For the past several years, the Rev. Daniel Graves, associate priest at Trinity Church, Aurora, has been blogging a set of serial novels that expose the quirks of Anglican church life, to comedic effect.
He got started about five years ago when an elderly member of his previous parish mentioned a priest who had told stories of a fictional cleric from the pulpit. “I thought I’d try it out. I wrote my first story and shared it in the pulpit one week, and it was a pretty big hit,” he says. “Most of my writing over the past 30 years has been academic and professional writing. It was kind of fun to tap into that creative side.”
Since then, he’s written about a dozen stories about the Rev. William Perkins of Christ Church, Hampton’s Corners, six of which he’s posted online. A self-effacing country parson, Mr. Perkins always has something new to learn. “Like a lot of clergy, he has ideas about things, and then when he tries to put his ideas into practice, he learns that things are very different on the ground,” says Mr. Graves. “Usually Mr. Perkins has some little conversion of the heart and sees things differently.”
When the first COVID-19 lockdown began in the spring of 2020, Mr. Graves started writing and posting a new serial novel as a way to connect with friends and parishioners. The Archdeacon features newly appointed Archdeacon Thomas Fulman, tasked by his bishop with visiting parishes to see which may need to be amalgamated or closed. “It was an opportunity to make up several different parishes and talk about what goes on in them, and what the clergy and the people are like,” he says.
After getting a positive response from his readers, he started writing The Archdeacon Returns, in which the archdeacon runs for bishop. “It’s about what ambition does to us and how we deal with ambition in the Church, when we probably aren’t supposed to be ambitious, but we all are,” he says.
That might have been the end of the story, but Mr. Graves says he realized he was ready to return to an idea he’d had when he first started writing the Mr. Perkins stories. The Bishop follows the trials and tribulations of the newly elected bishop, as well as the story of Maddie, the archdeacon’s former assistant curate, as she takes up her first solo parish. “The Bishop is really about men and women, strength and gentleness, and the roles we play,” says Mr. Graves. “If the world is turned upside down — strength is weakness, the last are first, and these kinds of principles — what does that do to the roles we play as human beings, and the way people think they should be played out in the world?”
He says he doesn’t have concrete plans for a sequel to The Bishop, but he’s been thinking about one of his characters who used to be a bookseller, like Mr. Graves himself. “I do have a novel about a church book room in the back of my head somewhere that’s trying to get out, so that might be coming up soon,” he says.
Mr. Graves says he sees aspects of himself in most of his characters, including the less appealing ones, and he hopes they’ll also help his readers reflect on their own experiences in the Church. “I expect that people will see other people that they know, not necessarily intentionally, but because these are such broad types that you have in every parish and every diocesan office,” he says. “If it makes people look in the mirror and say, `Is that me?’ that’s a good thing. Self-awareness is rare.”
Exploring these kinds of stereotypical church figures also lends itself to humour, whether it’s poor Mr. Perkins trying to explain the Trinity to the Sunday School year after year, or a hotel bar sending home most of its staff on the mistaken assumption that Anglican synod members were unlikely to provide much business. “I’m really gratified when people laugh,” says Mr. Graves. “Maybe we can laugh at ourselves, but in that laughing have some reflection encouraged — use humour as a way to reflect on who we are.”
Though the humour of the stories may contain some cynicism, Mr. Graves says he hopes that he’s ultimately conveying an optimistic view of the Church and its future. “I think at the end of the day, touching the dark places helps us to stand in the light a little bit better,” he says. “I have hope for that.”
To read Mr. Graves’ past and ongoing work, visit his blog at www.danielgraves.blogspot.com.
This year, our Lenten journey can take on deeper meaning