A new appointment is not an opportunity for sweeping aside all that has gone before. Paul Griffin appeals for humility and a respect for the work previously done by others
Society needs new brooms. This is a great truth, but it often outgrows itself when the Fat Lady of Fashion waltzes on and sings her piece, leaving instead of a great truth a nasty mess. The damaging fashion is the very un-British one of boasting, of over-valuing and trumpeting our own qualities. The prospectus of any little school will announce not that it does all it can against great difficulties to educate the children of not always very impressive parents, but that it is a Centre of Excellence. The book you are reading is ‘The Number One Bestseller’.
Again, there is the young person who walks confidently into a job interview, and announces that he or she possesses all the qualities required to turn a moderate affair into a world-beater. I blame some business schools, which breed super-troubleshoot-ers confident of their abilities to run anyone’s affairs and even show off on television about it. All sorts of firms employ young graduates to go in and advise specialists in their own business. And, of course, there is Ofsted.
Maybe this is what the world needs. Maybe my instinct is wrong to send my child to cautious, humble teachers, or to appoint a candidate who admits to a degree of inadequacy rather than one who admits to none. But surely the Church must have none of it. Despite Pope Gregory, we are ‘non angeli, sed Angli’: not angels but, well, Anglicans. We admit human fallibility, rather than trumpeting our superiority. No teenage archdeacons for us!
There are occasional stories of men appointed to new positions in the Church who sail in with just the air of infallibility that the Fat Lady encourages, and who forget that a new broom is there to sweep, not to destroy; I sincerely hope that the Church do es not foliow fashion. O ur Lord was a new bro om, and made it clear that his function was to fulfil what was already there.
This is not a general criticism. The ordained Church fights the
right battle in the right way against hellish forces from which I, a layman, am comparatively sheltered. I do not shoot the pianist because the Fat Lady goes off note. Yet a warning may be timely against the dangers of following current lay customs.
A gentler approach
There is a stage in sheepdog work, which is called something like the Collect, when the shepherd and his dog meet the flock and establish kindly but firm authority over them. If they rush in, shouting and barking, the flock scatters. So with the Church. The pressure of outside fashion to say: T know exactly what you need, and am the man to change everything here’ is not kind to those who have borne the heat of the day under previous incumbents and vacancies.
Though I grant that laypeople too move around and are not necessarily permanent residents in one place, and also that a lot of us, being part of the Church of England, are terribly ill-informed, thanks be to God that some laypeople stay, are on the ball, and will still be on it after their Father in God, in a Church of generally shorter tenancies, has gone away to some new undertaking.
What is more, we are actually proud of past progress, a bit sensitive about it, and not happy to act as Augean stables for some go-getter. We know that in a few short years or so go-getters get up and go, and it will be all to do again.
The laos, despite the similarity in pronunciation, are not noisome little insects, but soldiers of Christ, who according to a different fashion would have been led into battle. They want to feel they are free creatures, but will follow a good man to the end. If they hear someone appointed to guide them say: ‘Hey! I’m the one that knows it all!’ they draw uneasy comparisons with life in the business world, and suspect him of being a follower of the latest fashion in new brooms. Then they find the Fat Lady distinctly off note.