by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
It wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that English men’s cricket formally removed the distinction between professionals – referred to as “Players” – and amateurs – known as “Gentlemen”. Until then the social distinctions had been very firmly kept. Separate gates admitted the two classes to the playing area, and their names were written differently on printed scorecards. It was unthinkable for the captain of a major team not to be a Gentleman. In the years after the Second World War many of those distinctions seemed to make less and less sense; those who had fought side by side on the battlefield should surely be given the same dignity on the sports field.
By the 1950s, the demands of high level sport were making it less and less practicable for an amateur to set aside the time needed to train and prepare for each occasion. Meanwhile those who had formerly squeezed their cricket into the gaps available in the life of a teacher, lawyer or clergyman, were finding that their main profession no longer accorded the space required. An advertisement from the ecclesiastical press in the late 1960s that read, “Curate sought, slow left arm bowler preferred”, was probably thinking more of the needs of the Diocesan Church Times eleven than the County first team. The age of the amateur was dying.
Fifty years on, it looks truly dead. From health care to law, from asset management to academia, levels of specialisation have accelerated to the point where even the most gifted generalist cannot hope to keep up with the focused full timer.
Last week I circulated my diocese with the new advice from the Church of England legal team on how to interpret what it means to give “due regard” to the House of Bishops policies on Safeguarding. It’s pretty blunt, and necessarily so. No matter how many years ordained experience, or how broad their understanding of the wider pastoral context, and notwithstanding what other complexities they may feel need to be held in tension in the specific circumstances, any person or corporate body that follows a course of action not in line with the national position, unless it has first been approved in the particular instance by the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor and Diocesan Registrar, is at risk of disciplinary or equivalent action.
In the teeth of the course of recent history, the parish priest and, I would argue, the diocesan bishop, remain at heart generalists. Clergy are called to comprehend scripture and theology, ethics and psychology, social sciences and pastoralia, and to apply simultaneously each of these and more to the specifics of individual lives in particular places. On a bad day it can feel as though everything imposed upon us, from Faculty Jurisdiction to Human Resources, and from Safeguarding Policy to Churchyard Rules, diminishes our ability to fashion a holistic response to a multifaceted situation.
Yet, rather than despair at the encroachment of experts into our decision making, I would argue that we are better served by it. The professional staff we employ at national and diocesan level are there to make our work more effective, not less. Specialist advice and guidance provide boundaries and safe space within which we can deploy our own training and skills to craft an appropriate response to the questions we face.
Whether we’ve been twenty years a bishop or twenty days a curate, we should not be reticent in challenging a policy or expert opinion we believe does not fit the circumstances. It’s only when that challenge fails to change the advice we are receiving that we need to revise our position and comply. I lose my fair share of such arguments. Both I myself, and the actions I take after robust conversations with my expert colleagues, are all the better for it.
Like the Player and the Gentleman in those cricketing days of yore, far from being implacable enemies, the generalist and the specialist are batting for the same side.