It began on a regular bike ride, along Grant’s Trail in St. Louis County, Missouri.
“I’d ride past this apartment complex. You don’t think anything about it,” said Glynn Young, author of the Dancing Priest series.
Book 4, Dancing Prophet, came out in October, but the story began in 2007, when Glynn learned that two young boys had been kidnapped and were being held in that apartment complex.
“It was profoundly unsettling to me. You ride by a place for years and don’t think twice about it — they’re right there. Fifty feet away there’s this horror going on. There was only one way for me to deal with this, so I wrote the heart of that story, about 35,000-40,000 words,” he said. “It’s not a personal story, and yet you don’t write a novel without it being a personal story.”
Glynn wrote within the larger story he was already writing, which primarily takes place in the UK. By then, the worldwide sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church had been revealed. As he finished working his original story into Dancing Prophet, more reports about the depth of the scandal emerged.
“It got really freaky this fall, when the stuff came out in Philadelphia. My publisher said, ‘They’re following your script,’” Glynn said.
Not a how-to script; more of a how-not-to one. In the novel the Church of England takes a defensive stance as accusations and evidence and confessions mount. The how-to example for handling horrific abuse of children comes from the series’ protagonist, Michael.
Fiction opens possibilities, and in Michael, Glynn has created a version of the three-fold office of Jesus Christ In book 1, Michael becomes a priest, and is assigned his first church in book 2. In book 3, he becomes king and starts popping in to preach the gospel in a way that displeases the Church of England’s high command. Those sermons are Michael’s first turn at speaking prophetically, but in book 4, when he discovers widespread corruption, he goes full prophet on the CofE.
The interconnectedness of these roles gives Michael remarkable power to effect change. If he were a king and not a priest, he wouldn’t have the spiritual authority that comes from ordination and being a pastor. If he were a priest and not a king, he wouldn’t have any legal or civil authority. Although prophets can be found in the unlikeliest of people, a person who has both civil and spiritual authority and who speaks truth to power can change things. Because this story takes place in the UK, Michael can make changes he couldn’t make as the president of the United States; in England, the monarch is the official head of the church. (If you watch The Crown, you already know this.)
“I started with the question of what would it look like if someone, as soon as they learned what was going on, took responsibility to stop it and change it. That never seems to happen,” Glynn said. “What would it look like if someone said, ‘This has to stop. It can’t be allowed to continue,’ and took responsibility? I have [Michael] in a position that he can do something dramatic and important.”
Even though in book 3, Michael senses that he is king for a reason, he thinks it’s smaller — you know, just whole-scale reformation of the Church of England. But in Dancing Prophet, he learns his role in the church is re-creation.
“In the beginning of third book, Dancing King, he’s on the plane flying to London, thinking about doing some sermons. That was the message he was bringing was need for reformation of church, personal reformation. He’s continued to do that, but it becomes very clear that was too small and God had something much bigger in mind,” Glynn said. “I had this idea in my head that we’re given enough information to respond and start doing what we think we should be doing, but there’s always this much larger picture that we’re a part of.”
There is a cost to doing the right thing: It means getting involved with hard stuff. We can be like the novel’s character Jane, who turns away from her boyfriend when she realizes his background included sexual abuse. She’s not sure about the whole thing. Her boyfriend seems okay, but is he really okay? Maybe it’s not worth the risk. So she breaks up with him.
Like her, we readers may put the book down when it gets hard. But we should learn from Jane, who reconsiders when she realizes the abuse is much closer to home. Glynn calls that moment The Sunday Night Scene.
“It was almost like the whole thing in microcosm. It’s a short scene, a pivot point. She begins to realize that things can happen but that doesn’t mean you’re beyond redemption or you’re worthless,” Glynn said. “That’s what turns the story.”
It’s a moment we need to have — as readers, as citizens, as church members (no matter what denomination). What safer place to examine our world and ourselves than in a story?
Because we never know who around us has been affected.
“These are people we live with and work with and are friends with, and they’ve been damaged. And yet they’re still functional, successful members of society. It’s around us, whether it’s a male or a female, Me Too, whatever,” Glynn said. “You don’t look at people as less than people because they’ve gone through these experiences.”
The cover’s image tells a thousand stories. It’s a photo of Whitby Abbey, in Yorkshire. Established in 657 AD, the abbey flourished until 1538, when King Henry VIII issued the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Glynn considered several images of British cathedrals, some taken at night or with poor lighting. This one stood out.
“That one is the story right there. It’s a church that’s a shell of itself. There’s also an element of blue sky, an element of hope about it,” he said.
Dancing Prophet is available in paperback and ebook formats. If you haven’t read the Dancing Priest series, you’re fortunate to be able to binge all four books together.