- 18th Jun 15
- 20th Jun 15
Liverpool Conference – A Digest
This conference was held at Liverpool Hope University from Thursday 18th to Saturday 20th June. It was the most successful yet in terms of delegate satisfaction. This is not a complacent statement: we can and will always find ways to improve further, but this event is now most definitely ‘on the map’ as the UK’s most significant national gathering of school chaplains.
It was indeed a ‘joint effort’ with the organising committee representing the Church of England (Garry Neave), The Woodard corporation (Brendan Clover), the Jesuits (Fr Adrian Porter SJ), TISCA (Hugh Bradby) and SCALA itself (Priscilla, John, Paul H and Gordon). The Conference Liturgy was very sensitively constructed by Wealands Bell, a former precentor of Lichfield Cathedral and current school chaplain of St Andrew’s CE School and Sixth Form in Croydon. It successfully drew in delegates from the whole spectrum of the Church within the large yet intimate setting of the University’s ecumenical chapel with its circular space and boldly coloured stained glass.
After an opening and motivating liturgy led by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford, Rt. Revd. John Arnold, the first speaker was Father Timothy Radcliffe OP, who spoke on how to capture the imagination of the young. He talked about the different cultures within our society and how facile mainstream culture with its leaching of idealism is not necessarily appealing to the young. He tried to contrast our abhorrence of the violence shown by IS with our tacit acceptance of so much violence embedded in our media experiences, especially when young. He could understand the powerful appeal of ‘causes’ such as IS and asked that we talked much more with those drawn to its activities. He showed some chilling clips from the French film ‘Of Gods and Men’ which portrayed the context of the brutal assassination by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists of 6 Trappist monks from the monastery at Tibhirine in Algeria. It was a powerful and extremely thought-provoking introduction to the Conference.
Later in the day, delegates were utterly captivated by several presentations from the Ten Ten Theatre Company which highlighted situations in which the lives of young people can be blighted by destructive relationships at home and at school. As a portrayer of modern moral and ethical dilemmas faced by young people in relation to their schooling and society at large, Ten Ten Theatre is supreme.
The second day began with an Ignatian spiritual meditation, led by Fr Adrian Porter and was followed by Professor Linda Woodhead on proposed changes to the teaching of religion in schools. With Charles Clarke, Professor Woodhead has recently authored a report on the subject, entitled ‘A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools’ which has arisen from the recent series of Westminster Faith Debates on current thinking about religion and values in our society. It contains some challenging recommendations including the abolition of the statutory requirement for school acts of collective worship. It calls for a shift in responsibility for worship and the promotion of SMSC elements within the curriculum to governors, the re-defining of religious education as ‘religious and moral education, its curriculum centralisation alongside the other subjects of the National Curriculum and its inclusion of a range of ‘belief systems’ including humanism. Independent schools should be encouraged and possibly obliged to adopt it. Other recommendations include the role of SACREs and NASACRE, the religious roles (formation, instruction, education…), admission to and inspection of faith schools as well as the promotion of community cohesion through adoption of the Report’s proposals on the subject. Since two of the later speakers that day, Nigel Genders (Chief Education Officer of the Church of England) and Paul Barber (Director of The Catholic Education Service) were present for Professor Woodhead’s talk, there followed a very lively debate about the issues she had raised!
It was probably most appropriate that, following such a lively exchange of views, delegates should have then taken part in the Conference Eucharist. Its president was Rt Revd Nick Baines, Anglican Bishop of Leeds, (he last remembered a constituent college of Liverpool Hope as a delivery point on his paper round!) with Revd Sue Mayo, a Trustee of Chaplaincy Central and a former school chaplain in Stockport) as a hugely engaging preacher. Beautiful choral elements were contributed by the choristers of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral and the Conference was taken to the core of its concern, the awareness of God in our midst.
The afternoon speaker was Roger Bolton, who has had a very high-level involvement with both radio and TV programme production and who revealed to the Conference his concerns about the media and its relationship to religion. He stated that he was somewhat pessimistic about trends within the media in relation to the portrayal of religion and religious affairs but that he was trying, nevertheless, to be optimistic. He urged Conference delegates to support him in attempts to persuade the media in general to develop a balanced and far more wide-ranging coverage of religious affairs, both at home and abroad.
A further, significant activity of the Conference was to provide the setting for the ‘official’ launch of ‘Chaplaincy Central’ with its mission to provide easily accessible resources for school and FE chaplains, many of whom did not necessarily have ready access to substantial resources of an established church. Chaplaincy Central is now an independent charity with SCALA represented on its board of trustees and it is hoped that it will complement the work and resource development of SCALA.
The final, formal part of the day was provided by Revd Nigel Genders and Paul Barber who spoke about the issues facing the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in relation to the support of faith schools and the status of religious faith and religious teaching within them. Both are introducing changes into their respective areas and a new dynamic of support for faith schools was articulated by them both. It was heartening to see how both individuals recognised the mutuality of their endeavours.
The final morning of the Conference proved memorable through a most moving presentation by the Chief Executive of Christian Aid, Loretta Minghella. She brought to the Conference vivid and utterly moving accounts of her own dealings with children and families in situations of some of the most gross deprivation in the world. She talked about the reaction of children in British schools to the issues faced by such people and agencies such as Christian Aid. Loretta linked this to her own faith and, by extension, that of Conference delegates. It left delegates with a strange mixture of extreme discomfort but also inspiration through having seen and heard what it is possible to achieve even in circumstances where life seems at its bleakest.
The Conference also included a series of seminars covering a wide range of topics from chaplaincy in multi-faith schools, crisis counselling, prayer spaces in schools, citizen development education and overseas visits, the impact of bereavement, ‘What If’ learning, the theology of school chaplaincy (given by John Caperon – see below) and adolescent mental health (which was heavily over-subscribed – possibly a sign of the times). There were also working groups to consider the shape of proposed national standards for school chaplains. The results of these groups’ deliberations on what they saw as necessary modifications to the template document given to them will be available at the Trustees’ meeting.
Several sponsors contributed most generously to the Conference. These were SCM Press, the Prayer Book Society, ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ and Gresham Books (which printed free of charge the conference copies of our ‘Values’ booklet). Liverpool Hope University was widely commended for its thoughtful and kindly hospitality and we continue to believe that it offers an ideal venue for this Conference.
Particular thanks need to go to Paul Hansford and Jill Shorthose. Both attended the planning meetings and both worked very hard before and during the Conference to ensure its smooth running. Their eye for detail and their overview of events, Paul’s control of the finances and Jill’s production of the Conference Handbook and Liturgy booklets were major elements in the success of the whole event and I am extremely grateful to them both.
It should also be mentioned that the Conference hosted the launch of Revd Dr John Caperon’s new book ‘A Vital Ministry - Chaplaincy in Schools in the Post-Christian Era’, published by SCM Press and based on John’s doctoral research. We will place a review on the SCALA website very shortly.