Adrian Plass has written some works of great power and joy since the first "Sacred Diary" book came out in 1987, although nothing has ever matched that first Diary, with its ground-breaking mix of insight and humour, breaking the pomposity of the way we conduct ourselves as evangelical Christians.
Some of the more than forty books since that first Diary have been delightful. I would mention "View from a Bouncy Castle" and "Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation" as being among the best.
This new volume, the sixth and last in the Sacred Diary series is Plass very nearly back to the form of the early Diary volumes.
"Church Weekend" is the fictional diary of a fictional character called Adrian Plass and his family.
Adrian's son Gerald is now middle-aged, ordained, and a father himself. Gerald has a son called Cameron who had taken over the cheeky teenager role and provides many of the best jokes. Adrian has to organise and then lead a weekend away for his church and, of course, things don't go as smoothly as Adrian would like.
The conference venue bears a passing resemblance to Scargill House where the real Adrian has lived for most of the last three years, except the fictional version is badly run and led by a monstrous warden and populated by scatty community members. The church members attending the weekend are just as joyously barmy, though always well-meaning. For those who remember the first Diary books with fondness it's a delight to meet some of those same characters again, including the hapless Leonard Thynn.
Plass is an excellent and inventive writer who has a vast store of funny one-liners but some of his characters are too outrageous and too thinly drawn to allow the reader to engage with them, and without any emotional connection there's not quite enough to draw the reader into the book.
The book may be slightly lacking in laugh-out-loud moments, but I would still say it's a delightful read, and it has episodes of real heartache and some profound insights. It's not afraid to work through some tough emotions and some delicate questions of faith and weaves these skilfully into the humour of the narrative.
Life would be a little less joyful without Adrian Plass. The church has many reasons to be grateful to him, and many more reasons to be grateful to God for giving us someone who won't allow us to take ourselves too seriously.
The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass: Adrian Plass and the Church Weekend by Adrian Plass is out from Hodder & Stoughton, priced £14.99
Wayne Clarke is minister of New North Road Baptist Church, Huddersfield