Looking back on my recent account of the response to poverty found in the Kingdom of Christania, it occurs to me that I may have left the impression that the Charity Centers which I described represent that land’s first line of response to certain social ills. This is, in fact, not the case, and in fairness to the people of that distant and obscure nation, I believe that it is necessary to introduce my readership to an institution in Christanian society which, while it is a part of our own distant heritage as well, has long been forgotten here by all but the most serious students of history and literature. This is the office of beadle; one which permeates Christanian civil society.
What exactly a beadle is and what role they fill is a bit difficult to explain to those not familiar with Christania, because not only have beadles played no role in western societies for at least a century, but the Christanian take on them is a unique one, a bit different from their old English counterparts. It might be best to describe them as something between a deacon, a mafia fixer, and a ward heeler in the days of Tammany Hall. Their office is sponsored, and given its authority, jointly by the church and the crown, but they are neither clergy nor police officers. The beadle may be a man or a woman, and is typically (though not always) a retired elder who, as the saying goes, has been “a pillar of their community” for many years. They will have deep roots in these communities, will understand how things work there, and will know everyone and everyone’s aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, and friends. These connections, as much as their commission from church and state, are what grant them the resources to help those who have fallen into trouble. Their role is as advocate, as problem-solver, as advisor and counselor, as negotiator, as stern lecturer, as mother or father figure, as friend to those in need, and as shoulder to cry on for their communities. They are, in everyplace they serve, whether small towns or neighborhoods in large cities, someone who people can turn to when they need help with any of the innumerable problems of life. The church and the crown see beadles as good investments because their purpose is to deal with social problems before they reach a point at which more drastic steps may be necessary and other civil or religious institutions (such as Charity Centers or even the police) have to become involved, and to handle them as locally as possible, which is in keeping with the Christanian view that most problems are best handled by local institutions rather than by large bureaucracies in a distant capital city.
Indeed, dealing with problems in their communities – of every conceivable sort – are what beadles do incessantly. They are who you go to if you’ve lost a job and are running out of money; they will know every business owner in the community, and (so long as you are not a drunk, a layabout, or an embezzler, for they have responsibilities to those businessmen as well), will make sure it isn’t long at all before you get an offer of work. They are who you go to if your teenage son or daughter did something stupid and got themselves arrested; they will know every cop, every prosecutor, and every judge, and a word from them along the lines of “He’s a good kid, he just made a mistake” can turn what would have been a year in prison into a few months of probation and some community service (though it can also do the opposite; the beadles know who the real troublemakers in their communities are, and are not hesitant to see them dealt with). They are who you go to if you’ve gotten behind on your car payments and the bank is threatening repossession. They are who you go to if you suspect, but have no proof that the police could act on, that your neighbor is beating his wife. They are who two parties, whether individuals or businesses, turn to when they have a dispute so that it can be arbitrated and a compromise reached without having to resort to lawsuits. They are who a wife turns to in desperation about her husband’s drinking problem. They are who a single father (rare, but not unknown in Christania) turns to if he doesn’t know what to say to his adolescent daughter about getting her first period. They are who a bright 18-year-old talks to if they’ve just become an adult and have no idea what to do with their lives. They are there for these and a thousand other things, large and small, that may present themselves as problems in the lives of people in every community all across Christania.
This is not to say that the beadles always tell people what they want to hear. The first responsibility of a beadle is to their community as a whole, not to any particular individual in it. This, for example, is why those individuals who the beadle knows are, due to some personal failing, not capable of being a worthwhile employee will not be found a job, but will either be placed with some relatives to deal with or simply shipped off to a Charity Center. In addition, those whose antisocial actions, or those of their children, have (and here we are not speaking of the likes of reclusiveness or eccentricity, but of people who are making public nuisances of themselves) become a blight on their community can expect a knock on the door from their local beadle, and the “friendly advice” they offer is best taken by those who would not like the next knock on their door to come from a policeman. Here, it should be emphasized that although beadles are not police officers themselves, they have wide latitude and discretion when it comes to when they believe that the police should become involved in a problem in their community. Due to the nature of their work, beadles encounter violations of the law constantly, which range from minor to extremely serious. Of course, beadles are sworn to act in accordance with Christian morals and His Majesty’s laws, and of course, any major examples of lawbreaking are reported to law enforcement immediately. However, when it comes to minor infractions, beadles are expected to make judgments about what can have a blind eye turned to it, what can be handled with an apology and some restitution, and what calls for the law to get involved. A good example is found in the default attitude of beadles (and Christanians in general) to homosexuality; it is technically illegal in the Kingdom, but that is mostly a hedge against politicized homosexuals attempting to bring down the faith of the polis and upend the laws and traditions of the nation in order to suit their own purposes. Beadles are selected for the job because they know their communities and are no fools; thus they know full well whether someone in that community is a homosexual. However, it is unspoken, yet ironclad policy among beadles that as long as homosexuals use discretion and go quietly about their business, the beadles will use their own discretion to see to it that they are left alone. Should they be discovered through misfortune, any beadle will generally ensure that the matter is swept under the carpet or settled with some nominal punishment like a small fine. It is only if they become disruptive to their communities that a beadle would ever consider invoking the law in defense of their culture.
Here too, it must be emphasized that just as beadles are not police officers, neither are they Inquisitors. While Christian morality should and must infuse everything they do, it is not their job to go on moral crusades aimed at the eradication of vice. Moreover, Christanians are people who don’t suffer gossips or busybodies easily, so a great deal of effort is put into ensuring that beadles become neither of these things. With the exception of reporting activity that is criminal, disruptive to society, or endangers public safety, beadles are expected to not ever go where they have not been invited, do what they have not been asked to do, or discuss what they have seen or heard with any outside party without the permission of those involved. This means that being a beadle requires a mix of discretion and judgment; a sense of Christian justice tempered by Christian mercy, along with a healthy dose of realism about the ways of the world and about human nature. All of this is necessary if beadles are to continue to fulfill their intended purpose in Christanian society. The Christanians are keenly aware that beadle is the sort of post that could, in the wrong hands, become a swamp of abuse and corruption, turning the beadles themselves from beloved advocates and helpers of the people into a group of informants and enforcers to be feared and avoided. This has led to a system of safeguards placed upon the position designed to uphold its reputation and keep those who practice it honest. These are designed so as to reflect the Christanian belief that essentially all problems are best handled first through the application of tradition, then by social pressure, and finally, as a last resort, via the law. Beadles work closely with both church and civil authorities, and, as with virtually every other profession in Christania, there is a Beadles’ Guild. All of these work with individual beadles to help and support them in what is a very difficult and trying job. These authorities understand that simply due to the nature of the job (it is impossible to please everybody, especially in difficult situations, and beadles are only human and do sometimes make wrong judgments) all beadles will have complaints made against them from time to time. However, real concerns about consistent bad judgment, or, worse, abuse of power are taken very seriously, and although the need to do so is rare, there is no hesitation at all to see that beadles who have overstepped their bounds and lost the trust of their communities do not stay long in their positions.
But again, the need for these measures is exceedingly rare, as the nature of the position of beadle, and the process by which they are chosen, tends to select for those who are both wise and who are in it for the right reasons. When an opening for beadle becomes available, the local civil and religious authorities will meet (typically it will be the mayor and priest of a small town, but can also be an alderman and parish priest in a city district) and, in cooperation with the Beadles’ Guild, nominate candidates from among the prominent citizenry. Wealth is not considered when making nominations; instead, good character and a long-established history of civic involvement are the most important factors in putting someone into consideration. Another safeguard against ending up with the wrong sort of person is that nobody will ever get rich by being a beadle. The job is not intended as a sinecure for careerists; a modest stipend is provided through the guild, funded by the crown and the church, but it is really meant as a supplement for a person who already draws a pension, and would not be enough by itself to support more than a life of true Christian poverty in a very small town. In addition, beadles generally leave the position after being in it somewhere between ten and twenty years (though there is no fixed term for them and they may, except in the very rare cases in which one may be removed for corruption or incompetence, stay in it as long as they like), as the stress it brings does become wearisome after a while. Because one of the most important functions of a beadle is as an intermediary between common people and the the institutions that hold authority over them, no active clergyman or government employee will be considered for the position, although those who once held such posts but have been retired a few years may be nominated. Elders are preferred, but a beadle may be any age, retired or still working, and of either gender (some localities maintain both a male and a female beadle on the belief that the problems that men and women face are so different that each needs their own dedicated beadle to help with them). With rare exceptions, male beadles must have satisfied their duty to the national militia (which is similar to the Swiss system), and with no exceptions, female beadles must have raised children of their own. It is emphasized to all, and remembered by all, that to be nominated to be a beadle is an honor, not a right. Those nominated will be asked to come for a series of interviews (many who are nominated decline because they do not want the responsibilities involved, and there is no shame in doing so), references will be gathered, backgrounds will be checked, and finally a selection made.
Once a beadle is selected, they will be made ready for the job through a few months of study with the guild (and, if possible, with the outgoing beadle whom they will be replacing). As they shoulder their new responsibilities, church authorities, civil authorities, and the guild will strive to provide them with whatever resources they may need – material, psychological, or otherwise. Of these, the guild is especially critical; just as the beadles are always there for their communities, the guild and the brotherhood and sisterhood of fellow beadles it represents will always in turn be there for them. While it will sometimes call beadles who have made mistakes in for a stern talking-to or other disciplinary measures, the guild’s primary purpose is to be there as a support system and source of advice in what is one of the most difficult, but also necessary, roles in Christanian society.
The Christanians strongly believe that the beadle system, with its close connection to the communities it serves, produces results that are far superior to those of the faceless bureaucrats found in the welfare states of the West. If nothing else, giving a formal imprimatur to these personal, local systems of support increases the affection and loyalty that the people feel toward their civil authorities by ensuring that it isn’t the case that the only official authority figures the people ever deal with are those who either want money from them or who might drag them away in handcuffs. In the West, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” is an ironic joke; due largely to the effort of the beadles, there is no such joke in Christania. Sending the beadles to help them – to be their advocates and advisors – is living proof to Christanians that their king and their bishop care about them and want to help them as they live their everyday lives. That the Christanians feel this way, despite the general lack of sociology degrees from Ivy League universities among Christanian beadles, may be seen as a sign of backwardness in many places that style themselves advanced and that take pride in their systems being run and staffed by “credentialed experts”. And yet, as with their approach to poverty, some of the less enlightened among us may find things to admire in the Christanian approach to the problems of life.
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From time to time, we may return in this space to the topic of the Kingdom of Christania, in order to explore the question of what the political and social policies of a perfectly Christian land might look like. Hopefully this will be of interest, so please keep reading!