That career didn't eventuate. Instead he flourished in a different calling as a priest and an academic theologian. So much so that in 2012, he ascended to the prestigious post of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.
The focus of Graham Ward's work has been the place that Christianity has in the world. The one book of his I’ve most appreciated is Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice.
While increasing numbers of people shun institutional religion, yearning for spirituality is burgeoning in other areas of culture. Ward's advice for modern-day churches is to "stop trying to keep the institution as it is on the road. It's got to change," a need I see everyday, while all the while the focus remains on the institution and its maintenance. Which is not to say the institution of the church isn’t important, because it is. The need is for a different kind of institution and a different kind of leadership, a different vision of what it means nationally and locally to be church. I lament missed opportunities. I lament a lack of vision. I lament the politics of church and the kinds of decisions being made, especially in respect of leadership, and the sad implications of those decisions, which will now be with us for years to come. A reality that offers me little reason for hope.
Ward is a voice I’ve valued, that I continue to value, and is one amongst a number that I continue to listen too with respect to church and the implications of being church in the West in the 21st Century. These are voices that I find both affirming and hopeful. I lament however that their ‘prophetic’ speaking is not being heard where it matters. Good people within the institution continue to work on the ground to make a difference, continue to trust God, and continue to advocate for change, but in the end become exhausted, frustrated and cynical.
Sadly though voices like Ward’s confirm me in my status as a friendly outsider, and in my position as being on the outside of the inside. I have no confidence anything will be changing anytime soon in my part of the world, and that makes me sad.
Ward has a new book due out in October 2014 – Unbelievable: Why We Believe and Why We Don’t Believe.
You'll find the approx. 30 min interview here.