Dear Friends And Colleagues,
Well, this is my last contribution to the IACAC newsletter as President. I shall be standing down from the IACAC Executive Board after five years: the first as Vice President alongside Deacon Lewis Rose, and four years as President alongside Pierre, Mary, Bev (who is also standing down), Chris and Stephan, and five wonderful host chaplains. I offer them my thanks and undying admiration and affection.
Unlike some other presidents, I retire without lavish pension and lifetime Secret Service protection, but with a sense of having had a tremendous privilege in chairing the Executive Board and engaging with colleagues in many ways and in many situations, sharing with others the joys and challenges of airport ministry around the world.
I’m delighted to finish my term of office in Melbourne at the Association’s fifth visit to Melbourne and sixth to Australia, and only my second visit south of the equator. My father was a merchant navy officer, and I am aware that ‘crossing the line’ can involve all manner of strange rituals – though I’m hoping that the world of aviation remains rather more civilised than the seafaring community.
I did joke last year that without nominations for the post of President, I might threaten to emulate many tin-pot dictators and declare myself ‘president for life’. Thankfully this ensured two nominations, however, as you will know, one of our candidates has had to withdraw, leaving the Board and the Association with a worrying void: one candidate for both posts of President and Vice President. Now while I can attest that Pierre de Mareuil is the equal of at least two ordinary mortals, he will struggle to serve in both roles simultaneously. So, we are looking at nominations ‘from the floor’ as it were – although, the IACAC constitution requires certain conditions for nomination to be fulfilled, but nevertheless there is a likelihood that nominations will be restricted to those who attend the conference. While numbers are healthy, this does potentially exclude those who aren’t present in Melbourne.
My final plea to you (yes, I’m speaking directly to you at this point) is that we don’t allow ourselves to be disconnected from the democratic structures of our Association. I am no political hack, and neither are most (any) of us. We have more than enough to do with our own chaplaincies, and many engaged in airport chaplaincy have other responsibilities in parishes, or other forms of chaplaincy, family life, teaching and so on…
The last fifty years have seen an increasing detachment from community involvement at all levels; in churches and faith communities, voluntary and community groups, local, national and international democratic institutions. The last three years in the UK have seen a steep increase in cynicism about those whom we now disparage as the “political classes”. Only today, television news vox-pops in Parliament Square revealed a public mood that would encourage Guy Fawkes (who famously tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder, treason and plot” in 1605). Little wonder that Guy Fawkes is often toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”.
Many countries seem to be wrestling with a popular belief that ‘all politicians are the same’, and writing all of them off as corrupt, self-interested or incompetent. When the inevitable General Election takes place in the UK (Possibly during our conference in Melbourne) a huge number of widely respected, honourable, decent, hardworking members of parliament have already stated that they will be standing down, citing death-threats, abuse, and general popular disdain as reasons for leaving public life. Such situations risk a corresponding rise of (ironically) undoubtedly corrupt, self-interested and incompetent populist demagogues and the trashing of democratic instruments that have served us well, and which we have taken for granted, since the end of the Second World War. The rise of populist nationalism is (among many other things) a challenge to civil aviation, and the travel industry, which since 1945 has brought people around the world to appreciate and connect with new and unfamiliar cultures, places and people, is reciprocally a challenge to closed-minded, cynical nationalism. I’ve quoted Mark Twain’s wonderful aphorism on several occasions before – but permit me one last time: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
A democratic deficit (or democracy deficit) occurs when ostensibly democratic organizations or institutions (particularly governments) fall short of fulfilling the principles of democracy in their practices or operation where representative and linked parliamentary integrity becomes widely discussed.
There is a looming democratic deficit in our local community lives, in our national lives, in our international relationships. I am not suggesting that struggling to fill posts on the IACAC Executive Board is a crisis of similar proportions – probably not even a crisis at all. But it may be a symptom. Our Association must not become a community in which (almost) everyone is a spectator or audience member, and the only meaningfully engaged participants are the Executive Board.
Soren Kierkegaard made a similar comparison in relation to divine worship. He suggested that if we think of worship as similar to a dramatic production, it is tempting to make the mistake of imagining that the priest, preacher or senior pastor is the star actor or actress, and the choir and other ministers supporting artistes performing for the benefit of the congregation (or audience).
In fact, he points out, it is the worshipping congregation who are centre stage in the performance. The clergy and other ministers are merely prompts, encouraging us to do our best for God, who is the sole member of the audience; the one for whom the ‘performance’ is put on.
You (yes, sorry, I’m talking to you again) are this Association. Forgive me if, in the last five years I’ve ever connived with a misunderstanding that the Executive Board or (God forbid) the President is, in any sense, more significant to the IACAC than you are. Our shared role, our common purpose as chaplains is to serve God by loving, serving, helping, supporting, guiding the people who God sends our way. The Executive Board’s task, and everything that we do, is to enable you (us) to be more confident, effective and resilient in undertaking that role – sometimes in very lonely or challenging circumstances.
I would love for this newsletter, our website, our conferences, publications and every expression of our Association – to reflect this common purpose of serving God, loving God’s people and prayerfully and carefully supporting one another – and to become ever more a dialogue; not a monologue, but a conversation among friends who are walking (or flying) together in faith.
Finally, thank you for your support and prayers over the last few years. Only recently I had a very difficult meeting and was stressing about it. I mentioned it to a colleague on the other side of the world (who shall remain nameless). Their prayers (and email later-on to ask how it went) made such a difference; it gave me a strength beyond my own strength, and I was so grateful for their loving prayerful concern. I hope I have returned the favour in other directions too. I promise to continue to pray for you. We are the IACAC. You are the IACAC. Let’s continue to Associate!
The Revd George Lane