Deliverance – Book Review

I originally posted the following review of Jason Bray’s book ‘Deliverance’ on the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society’s Facebook group page. Phil Rickman is the author of the Merrily Watkins mysteries. I posted a lengthy essay about this series on my Facebook page around 2 June 2020. Merrily is a fictional Vicar and Deliverance Minister (the modern Anglican term for “exorcist”) based in Herefordshire. Jason is a real-life Vicar and Deliverance Minister based in Wrexham.

Jason Bray is a real-life Merrily Watkins. His book “Deliverance” describes his life and work as a regular full-time vicar and Deliverance Minister.
His book has been mentioned previously on this page, and I recently tracked down a copy here in South Australia. I think anyone who enjoys Mr Rickman’s Merrily novels would find Rev. Bray’s account both fascinating and entertaining, perhaps an ideal read while waiting for the next Merrily adventure to be published.
The Reverend Doctor Bray, to give him his formal title (he has a PhD in Theology), is a working Vicar at St Giles’ Parish Church in Wrexham, on the Welsh border about 80 miles north of Merrily’s territory.
He describes himself as “your quintessential Anglican vicar”. He explains “I chair council meetings over cakes, sandwiches and pot after pot of tea …… There is also my bread and butter job – services, christenings, weddings and funerals. The sitcom “Rev” has my job pretty much spot on. Except for one rather large detail: I am a deliverance minister, which means I also deal with hauntings, ghosts, demonic possession and all things supernatural.”
The book is a surprisingly easy read for such a potentially challenging topic. Rev Bray comes over as a genial, caring person with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour. He provides many insights into the daily life of a busy vicar and tells matter-of-factly about his deliverance work. It demonstrates how accurately Mr Rickman portrays Merrily’s fictional world, from routine, everyday tasks to various deliverance challenges. His explanations of the various types of phenomena reinforce our understanding from Huw Owen’s descriptions.
Rev Bray describes his deliverance work quite straight-forwardly. For some cases, the biggest challenges are trying to find a time in the diary that suits everyone involved, finding the correct house or apartment in developments where dozens of dwellings look the same or in more remote areas where the satnav can’t be trusted, managing people’s expectations, dealing with thrill-seekers with mobile phone cameras, handling elements of the sensational media who insist on calling everything he does an “exorcism”, making sure that he has the right permissions and authorities and is suitably covered by insurance in case anything goes pear-shaped (because, for example, you don’t want the news that you have “exorcised” a dwelling to negatively impact the re-sale value and have the vendors sue you for the loss), and the bane of both doctors’ and Deliverance Ministers’ lives – the self-diagnosed client who has become an internet-fuelled “expert”.
But then there are the more traditional, unexplained, possibly supernatural events. Rev Bray describes them objectively, and explains what he thinks is going on and how he handles each one. It is riveting stuff without being overly dramatic.
I also like the way Rev Bray deals with some quite complex philosophical issues in a very accessible way, using particular Deliverance cases to present or illustrate his thoughts about each topic. For example, at various times he considers the nature of faith, religion, the concept of God and the existence of Evil, as well as touching on some of the historic reasons for how and why the Church is like it is. He deals with these potentially heavy topics with a light touch, enough to give the reader some context and insight into his practice as well as being genuinely interesting in themselves.
About two-thirds of the way through, Rev Bray writes this: “For many years now, I have been a great fan of Phil Rickman.” He goes on to describe his first meeting with Mr Rickman at an author’s talk where he told the author that he was about to go on the official training for the ministry of deliverance. That started an ongoing correspondence between the two, with Mr Rickman often asking about technical issues and more often how the Church works. I guess that is one of the reasons that the Merrily stories are so convincing and believable. In return, Mr Rickman offered him advice on a draft of his book. Rev Bray was also a consultant on ITV’s “Midwinter of the Spirit”.

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