Klein, Walter C. Clothed With Salvation: A Book of Counsel for Seminarians & A Priest Forever. Los Altos, CA: The Seabury Society, 2021. 292pp. Paperback $11.99.
Shortly after I received a review copy of Clothed With Salvation, I left the volume on the table in our parish vestry, where it was seen by our Deacon. His face immediately lit up as he recognized the cover photo of the 1911 class of Nashotah House, his alma mater. When he read the author’s name, he was even more excited and was eager to borrow the book as soon as I was done with it. A couple of weeks later he informed me that he could not wait and had ordered his own copy. I share this anecdote to illustrate the reputation Bishop Klein has among certain Anglicans and Episcopalians in North America. Indeed, as I was finishing the book during my post-Christmas vacation, I discovered that several of my elderly relatives (including non-Episcopalians/Anglicans) were also familiar with his ministry.
To say that Bishop Walter Klein had a far-reaching and active ministry would be an understatement. He was the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana during most of the 1960’s. During his 45 years of active ministry, he served as curate, assisting clergy, or rector at numerous churches, including serving as part of the bishop’s staff at St. George’s, the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem. Most importantly to the present volume, he served in either teaching or administrative capacities in three different seminaries, culminating in his role as dean of Nashotah House.
The present volume consists of two of Klein’s books: Clothed With Salvation (originally published in 1953), and A Priest Forever (originally published in 1964). Clothed With Salvation was written as a book of advice to seminarians. A Priest Forever was a follow-up to his previous work, but written for newly-ordained ministers. Indeed, when comparing the structure of each book, it becomes obvious that Klein intentionally followed the pattern of Clothed With Salvation when he wrote A Priest Forever. Both books include nine chapters, and each chapter corresponds to the chapter of the same number in the other book. Each of these chapters address a particular aspect of ministerial life, and could function as a stand-alone essay on its topic.
The first chapter of each book addresses the respective role of the intended audience. Clothed With Salvation discusses the nature of the seminarian as a layman who is on the cusp of joining the clergy. A Priest Forever discusses the nature of the priesthood as a unique vocation. The second chapter of each book deals with life in community within the respective vocational roles. The third chapter addresses implications of duties in and familiarity with service at the altar. Then follow chapters on one’s prayer life and one’s intellectual/academic life, respectively. The fifth chapter in each book addresses the temptations to stray from one’s present rank or role as one is distracted by church politics and ambition. Chapters seven and eight of each book remind the seminarian or cleric of his humanity and the ubiquity of sin. The final chapter of Clothed with Salvation addresses the seminarian’s upcoming life change as he approaches the priesthood, while the final chapter of A Priest Forever addresses the ongoing life of general pastoral ministry.
In addition to the two books by Klein, the present volume includes 59 pages of appendices that consist of several short works on the ordained ministry. The current editor, B. James LeTourneau, has selected a wide range of supplementary reading, from works as early as portions of George Herbert’s The Country Parson to works as recent as passages from the canons of the Anglican Church in North America.
Klein’s writing style is winsome, pastoral, and personal. From the opening pages, he speaks from experience, both as a longtime priest and as a trainer of future priests. He also has a knack for memorable phrases. For example, when speaking of the dangers of ecclesiastical ambition, he observes, “Only one misdirected enthusiasm, and that perhaps a trivial one, is required to transform the devoted man of God into a self-seeking ecclesiastical. This process can get a good start in the seminary, and every time it does there is malicious laughter in hell” (5). While considering this sobering statement, one cannot help but graphically imagine the “malicious laughter in hell.”
Indeed, as much as Klein loves the priesthood (or perhaps because of his love for it), he does not refrain from speaking pointedly. Speaking of the necessity of clerical discipline, he writes, “Self-indulgence does not mix with a vocation: it complicates our lives, curtails our usefulness, stifles our devotions, offends decent laymen, and exposes us to the taunts of unbelievers” (9). “We never win an argument with the flesh. . . Sound laws have a stability that even an exceptionally virtuous man cannot achieve. . . A rule of life performs a similar service in a similar way. . . In seasons of stress a rule may be the only safeguard we have” (10-11).
The reader may have noticed that all of the above quotations are from the first chapter. Such nuggets of wisdom are found throughout the volume. This is one of those books where I find myself having to hold back from my own underlining and annotations lest I underline the entire book!
I found myself particularly engaged with the Clothed With Salvation. At first, I thought the reason behind the special appeal of the first book was a lack in my own formal theological formation. That is, I did not attend a residential Anglican seminary; my formal graduate theological education was as a commuter student at a Baptist University. A brother priest, by contrast, has nostalgically likened his time at Nashotah House to attending an “Anglican Hogwarts.” Initially, I thought that Clothed With Salvation may have awakened a hunger for something I did not have while A Priest Forever spoke to my regular experiences. Yet, as I began to write this review, I realized that the appeal of the first book was that it was indeed first, and the second book is intentionally so much like it. That is, I had not noticed how very parallel the two books were until I began to write this review. This feature means that I probably would have appreciated the second book and the appendices even more if I had delayed reading them for a sufficient period of time after reading the first book. I daresay many clerical readers will likely find the same to be true for them.
Between the two books by Klein and the vast supplementary material in the appendices, LeTourneau and the Seabury Society have provided the seminarian or cleric with a wealth of material for reflection and application. While Klein’s churchmanship is decidedly Anglo-Catholic, Anglican ministers (and prospective ministers) of all stripes would do well to consider the wisdom in the volume. Klein may have been of a prior generation, but that distance is part of what makes the book so valuable.