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Ready for flight

05 July 2019

AFTER what is often years of waiting, the training is finally over. Although the environment is familiar, the uniform, with its strange neck-gear, is a reminder that you have suddenly assumed responsibilities, when before you were a passenger. The first weeks are nervous, but there is a sense, underlying it all, that you are finally fulfilling your vocation. You are, at last, a member of an airline crew.

The comparison with the clergy is a close one. The two professions seem glamorous from the outside, but deal mostly with very mundane matters. Cleaning up messes, both figurative and literal, can be a feature of either. Both professions require their members to be confident, attentive, and gracious, when that is not how they are feeling. The pay is indifferent; the perks can be better, but perhaps not as enjoyable as they first seem. Both professions are concerned with the people in their care, but that also involves responsibility for their physical surroundings, an aircraft or a church building. Neither works well if bits fall off.

Where the analogy breaks down, perhaps, is over parameters. For one thing, airline crew do not live in the airport (although on long-haul flights, it can seem pretty close to this). They have clear periods on and off duty. Most clerics, in contrast, have to engage in a constant negotiation about their time is divided, given the demands of living in a parish. Another dissimilarity is that airline crew have clearly delineated jobs. Clergy, on the other hand, are sometimes expected to be the pilot, sometimes the steward. The assistant curates who answered our survey by and large enjoyed the variety of their work, but the experience of having too much accountability and too little executive power is a familiar one — as, incidentally, is its reverse in certain areas of the Church. And trainee aircrew have recourse to a full range of HR services, which, it is being argued, are urgently required in the Church of England to bring a greater degree of standardisation to ministerial training.

Both professions, though, are concerned with getting people from A to B. Whether pilots or stewards, the crew play a vital part. Their work may be taken for granted, but they come into their own when turbulence occurs or there is an emergency. It is often said that only the destination matters; but, particularly when there is a long distance to travel, the journey is just as important. It can determine the state that the travellers are in on arrival, and the crew must not let them down or desert them. Prepare for landing.

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