Monday, 29 October 2012

Rorate Caeli

This advertisement was placed in the press last week by a major British institution:

If the qualities that make a good Archbishop were obvious, 
they wouldn't make a very good Archbishop.
While it's true that the work is often challenging and even exciting, the qualities we look for are more ordinary than you would imagine. And more subtle. The simple ability to get on with all sorts of people from all kinds of cultures, for example. To talk and to listen. To develop the sort of relationship that means you can convince them to do what's needed to protect our national interests. This is a vital skill, along with the drive and imagination to link up pieces of data to reveal opportunities others may have missed.
Oh, and let's not forget the old image of the hyper-intelligent, slightly dysfunctional oddball. In fact you'll find that we value both emotional intelligence and academic achievement.
Now what about the image of the globe-trotting Primate, rushing abroad at a moment's notice? Certainly we're an organisation with an overseas focus, so that does happen sometimes. But while we actively seek people with an interest in global affairs, many operational jobs are in our London HQ and fit well with family life.
What about secrecy? Well obviously the details of your work will be secret and we ask you not to discuss your application with anybody. That said, once you join us you'll be able to disclose your role to one or two close friends or family. We'll help you create a credible cover story for everyone else. 

You will be surprised to learn that in fact the advertisement comes from MI6, and the words “archbishop” and “primate” read originally, “spy” and “agent”. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? It all sounds to us suspiciously like Criteria for Selection for Ministry in the Church of England.

This should be no surprise. MI6 and the Church of England occupy similar roles in society: both vital to the integrity of the British state, they are semi-detached from other organs of state, and regarded with some suspicion by the public, and, with regard to their independence of action, by Parliament.

Of course, the advertisement does not refer directly to the recruitment difficulties of the Crown Nominations Commission. It continues:

Paradoxically, the need for secrecy creates a uniquely open and supportive working culture within the organisation.

which can hardly be said of the Church of England. Furthermore,

As for the white, male stereotype, the truth is that we don't care what sex you are or where you're from, as long as you're a British national. 

which is not yet true of the House of Bishops, although it might be what they think of as a “credible cover story”. Like Universal Exports, however, the cover of the House of Bishops has long since been blown.

It is clear, though, that our recruitment processes are now being managed by new and expert hands. We have moved on from the era when recruitment was undertaken by dons personally approaching candidates in the better universities, to one when open advertising and accountability is apparently normal. Don’t be surprised, though, when your Bishop’s Advisory Panel employs some pretty brutal techniques, or when a spectral Commission, meeting in a secret location, turns out to determine the future of an international conspiracy communion. This, after all, is an institution where waterboarding, even of children, is a regular initiation procedure.

Ministry in the Church of England is not all high-speed chases in casinos. You might think so from media portrayals of her clergy, whether it is the Bishop of Durham investigating a gambling ring, the lone-gunman-style adventures of Giles Fraser (widely believed to be a fictional character) or the glamorous lifestyle among the beautiful people led by the Reverend Richard Coles. In reality the number 007 is most likely to indicate communicants at the 8 o’clock, and the most exciting thing you can expect is a Licence to Execute the Ministry of a Priest-in-Charge.

However, if the Ministry Division thinks this image will encourage vocations, good luck to them. We are glad, too, that there is a continuing belief that those who work for the Ministry are “doing extraordinary things for their country”; that is, a heavenly one. For us, as the Apostle tells us, the world is not enough. 

At Plumstead Rectory we have suspected that MI6 has been working hand in hand with the Ministry Division for some years now. ‘M’ is for Ministry, after all, and what can the designation ‘Q’ be but a playful reference to the Cold-War-era biblical criticism that equips us so effectively to be agents of the gospel?

And although we too have had our Philbys and Macleans, we can confirm that attempts to identify them with the current Archbishop of Canterbury (by MI5, for goodness' sake!) are merely evidence of inter-service rivalry. I could tell you how I know, but then I'd have to baptise you by full immersion in my piranha-infested font.

1 comment:

  1. Love the title of this post, by the way - very clever!