William C. GAVENTA and David L. COULTNER, Editors, The Pastoral Voice of Robert Perske. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Pastoral Press, 2003. Pp. 184. $19.95 pb. ISBN 0-7890-2256-7.
Reviewed by John C. MEYER, Bradley University, PEORIA, IL 61625

This book is intended mostly for pastors and chaplains and is a collection of Robert Perske's earliest published papers on pastoral care and religious education for people with developmental disabilities. It includes an introduction describing the biography and life's work of Perske, an inventory of his published books that are still in print, a detailed list of the applications of Perske's earliest works for today's pastoral community, the reviews of several of Perske's peers as they comment on his earlier works and fifteen works Perske published between 1963 and 1971, each with an abstract preceding the article itself. Perske's writings form the heart of the book itself and focus on the papers and articles Perske wrote early in his career while serving as a chaplain at the Kansas Neurological Institute.

Those who are knowledgeable about people who are developmentally disabled will recognize that Perske was way ahead of his time while adapting worship, religious instruction, pastoral care and clinical pastoral education to the field of developmental disabilities. His articles are almost prophetic insofar as the seminal concepts he articulates are accepted as mainstream in the contemporary world, even though his language at times is dated and would not be tolerated today. Perske continually places the person with a developmental disability first in his writing rather than putting the disability first as had so often been done in the era in which he was writing. He recognizes them fully as unique human beings rather than less than human or more than human creatures. He also points out that "the range of mental retardation is much wider than the range of those who are called normal" (p. 104) emphasizing that every human being must be looked at and related to as a person of different limits and capabilities.

While discussing the religious education of those who are developmentally disabled, Perske emphasizes that teachers need to be very concrete while explaining religious beliefs and concepts. He also points out that no religious education curriculum can be used universally for this population and the teaching needs to be adapted to the particular needs of the person being instructed. What is more, Perske affirms that the teacher is ninety percent of the curriculum since so much of religious education is experiential. He confirms his views with lots of real-life examples. Teachers, pastors, chaplains and others will also come to a greater understanding of their own limitations and finitude and grow theologically while working with those people who are developmentally disabled who readily accept their own imperfections.

Perske particularly criticizes the parish clergy for their lack of knowledge about those who are developmentally disabled. "But generally speaking, the parish clergyman probably is the one helping professional who knows the least about the mentally retarded in the community." (p. 81) This has resulted from their deficiency of exposure to people with developmental disabilities and practical pastoral education while they were in the seminary. Certainly this book should be added to the syllabi of pastoral care courses in seminaries. The book is very readable, encouraging and timely despite dealing with articles written more than thirty years ago. It is highly recommended especially to be read by those who by their profession or station in life come into contact with people who are developmentally disabled in an inclusive society. It will be particularly helpful for pastors, counselors, chaplains and teachers.


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