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Up and down the greasy pole


Simon Parke looks at  we feel when we don’t measure up

THE GREASY pole is not a term of racial abuse, but an ever-present temptation to the Christian soul, and forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Yes, when George Carey was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury, there was a little part me feeling, "It should have been me." Granted, I was about 30 at the time, with the wisdom of a chicken, but I always employ on potential, and wasn’t Jesus just 30 when he assumed the hot seat?

Until they reach 45, of course, all clergy think they’ve got a chance

of receiving that "surprise" letter. "Surely not me, O Lord? Well, OK then; if I must." After 45, stroppiness sets in. What’s the point of toeing the line now?

As history sadly records, George came from nowhere and pipped me to Canterbury. Obviously, I’ve never forgiven him, and I’ve discreetly run him down at every opportunity since. My quick recovery was mainly due to the fact that he was older than I was. Had he been a member of my peer group, it would have been more serious. "Preferred ahead of me and two years younger? Sold his soul, that one. Makes you sick." It is important the press gives the age of each new bishop, so that good Christians after my own heart can privately assess the damage.

The unspoken pecking order exists in every deanery, where dull chapter meetings are spent reflect-ing on who is where exactly on the greasy pole of preferment. I may be slightly below Winston, who’s got a good CV, is always on the phone to the bishop, and is at something of a "flagship" church; but I think I’m edging clear of Veronica, what with the disappointing Common Fund payments from her parish last year. Shame, eh? And the Bishop doesn’t like her at all, apparently.

Whether the greasy pole is vertical or horizontal in the Kingdom of God is a most interesting theological question. The horizontal pole is an attractive image of equality, whereby no one rises above or sinks beneath another. But a vertical pole more obviously allows for the last to be first, and the first to be last. The application of grease merely ensures that the climb to the top is mildly unpleasant, and the descent, when it is all over, extremely quick. Leaders should never outstay their welcome.

In the mean time, I confess unresolved issues between George and me. We remain poles apart.

The Revd Simon Parke was formerly Vicar of St George’s, Tufnell Park, north London.

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