Director’s Newsletter – December 2016
What actually happens in schools
I have just completed the third review this year of chaplaincy within a school and cannot speak highly enough of the sense of community and mutual support that I have witnessed in each one of them. Representatives of each school were impressively thoughtful and articulate about their chaplains and school chaplaincy in general and I was privileged to receive some utterly moving and inspirational testimony from young people to the influence and benefit that chaplains had brought to their lives.
Thankfulness for and memories of the influence of the chaplain is one of the most durable of memories that former pupils have of their schools although many chaplains will attest to the fact that during these pupils’ school careers it didn’t always seem like that!
What has also emerged is, however, the absolute requirement for chaplains to be able to fight their corner – and that of the central importance of their Christian faith – in the marketplace of ideas that enlivens any good school. It is a highly unusual school that has a majority of its pupils as active Christians and even those who do have a strong faith often prefer not to talk about it very often. It does seem, however, that very many pupils are extremely interested to debate the claims of Christianity and to be persuaded, providing that it is not transacted in a manner that they perceive as indoctrination or non-negotiable assertion.
It seems that the attraction of courses in Philosophy and Ethics is through the ‘open’ way in which these subjects are presented to pupils, allowing substantial opportunity for challenge and debate. Even more powerful an influence on pupils is a chaplain who lives the values of a Christian life by being alongside pupils in their frustrations, misunderstandings and joys, as well as by pouring immeasurable amounts of time and concern into the unresolved and challenging situations that periodically trouble all members of a school community. This, of course, raises very significant questions about how the time of a chaplain is allocated and what other responsibilities a chaplain may accrue. It raises questions about the contexts of chaplaincy – participation in academic teaching, active involvement in sport, a key role in the pastoral support structures of a school, involvement in counselling, constructing and leading key celebratory and reflective events in the annual life of a school, responsibility for the ‘cure of souls’, the ‘spiritual leader’ of the school - the list is awesome. This is why the role of a school chaplain is so absorbing, so crucial to the wellbeing of a school community and to the commendation of the Christian faith to generations of those who will follow us and help shape the world.
Recent music for the journey
Whilst I was in one school, talking with its Director of Music, there was a discussion about recent - and very ‘singable’ new compositions that had appeared this year. Two are commended to you, both as a listening experience and as potential performance items by school choirs. The first is ‘Visions’, a new composition by John Rutter for solo violin, treble voices and orchestra and based on the vision of Jerusalem. John Rutter summarises Jerusalem as ‘more than the name of a middle-eastern city: it stands as a symbol both of God’s people and of a utopian ideal of heavenly peace and seraphic bliss in store for redeemed humanity’.
Its overarching theme is based on the mediaeval hymn ‘Blessed City, Heavenly Salem’ and it also incorporates fragments of William Byrd’s anthem ‘Bow thine ear, O Lord’. Reminiscent in places of Vaughan Williams, it contains some hauntingly beautiful passages for solo violin.
The second composition, entitled ‘Cantata Memoria’, is by Karl Jenkins. It was recorded in the spring of this year and was commissioned from Karl Jenkins as a musical commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic events in Aberfan. 116 primary school children and 28 adults were killed on 28th October 1966 when part of the coal waste from the colliery waste perched high above this mining community, became unstable and flowed remorselessly through Pantglas primary school and neighbouring houses. It is a challenging and highly varied composition, employing young voices and a range of multi-lingual texts. Karl Jenkins refers, in the notes that he has written to accompany the recording, to other tragedies that have involved the death of children.
The piece deals with the welter of emotions that persist long after the physical scars of these events have gone: he refers to his dealing with them as ‘a conflation of ideas and facts’ and hopes that the ‘Cantata Memoria’ will be ‘symbolic, concerning childhood and the cherishing of the precious young as well as offering a memorial in music for the disaster in Wales.’
I should add that a visit to the peaceful cemetery on the slopes above Aberfan is a profoundly moving and difficult experience but one which groups of our pupils should be encouraged to undertake. Many of those reading this newsletter will have doubtless visited this place themselves and will have their own very particular memories of how it speaks most powerfully to our human condition.
Most of the children are buried there with the headstones of their graves containing some most moving expressions. A further poignancy is given by the addition, over the years, of their parents, reunited with the children whose growth to adulthood was denied to them and to their families. The search for God in all this is so painful and difficult but it seems that whilst, rightly, the memory of that awful October day in 1966 when the rain fell, the earth flowed and lives stopped is permanently embedded in the collective consciousness of the community, the determination of Aberfan to temper pain and anguish with love and concern for those who still live with such a tortured history is a very powerful reminder of the presence of God in the processes of healing and restoring of hope, so vital to the lives of all of us.
In the September Newsletter reference was made to information from the Culham St Gabriel’s Trust about various items of potential benefit to schools that the Trust is proposing to sell, or in certain circumstances, donate to schools. These items, which have come from the former chapel of what was Culham College, near Abingdon, include some altar silver which the Trust is obliged to sell as well as a number of additional items including a lectern and some pews. I have now visited the chapel of what was Culham College and the Bursar of the European School (the institution that now occupies the site) is agreeable to visits from interested school representatives to view these items. Do let me know if a visit is of interest to you. There is a proposal to organise a sale week in July 2017 but this has not yet been finalised.
The following items are probably those of most interest to schools. They are a silver chalice (approx. 30 cm tall) and paten (approx. 14 cm diameter), a silver wafer box (approx. 11cm square) a silver flagon with lid, a silver altar cross (approx. 80 cm tall), two small-ish glass jugs with lids, a freestanding wooden pulpit, several dark wooden pews, (each approx. 5 metres long) and a lectern. We have photographs of some of these items so, if you are interested, do please get in touch with me directly (email@example.com or 07802432398) for a photograph and further details.
Recent Conference News
Chester Cathedral hosted a day conference on 9th November devoted to ‘The Joys and Challenges for Joint Anglican and Roman Catholic Schools’. Speakers included the Bishop of Chester, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool), Revd. Nigel Genders (Chief Education Officer for the Church of England), Simon Barker (formerly of Holy Trinity School, Barnsley), Mark Millinson, Head of All Saints Inter-Church Primary Academy in March, Jenny Owen and Niall Hammond, Anglican and Roman Catholic chaplains respectively of St Chad’s, Academy in Runcorn and Priscilla Chadwick (Chair of SCALA). A full report can be found here www.scala.uk.net/news/report-on-the-joys-and-challenges-for-joint-anglican-and-roman-catholic-schools-one-day-conference on our website
The following day,Thursday 10th November 2016 the Diocese of Bath and Wells organised a day for chaplains from many backgrounds – including schools – to consider ‘Making Peace with Conflict’ a day on conflict resolution led by Simon Keyes of the University of Winchester. A full report can be found on the website here www.scala.uk.net/news/report-on-making-peace-with-conflict-organised-by-the-diocese-of-bath-and-wells
The most recent conference at which SCALA (and member schools) were represented was the Annual Conference of the Girls’ School Association, held in Oxford on Monday and Tuesday 21st and 22nd November. For SCALA, this is primarily a networking event but it gives exceptional access to the thinking and concerns of a very large group of schools, many of which have a Christian foundation and character and are long-term friends and supporters of ours.
The Headmistress of Headington School, Oxford, the GSA’s President, gave the opening address characterising the year 2016 as one of totally unexpected change which made it all the more vital that the agendas of globalism and internationalism were understood and embraced by all member schools. Amongst the specific, more local, professional concerns that she identified were provision for teacher training, stalled, failed or incomplete government initiatives, examination grade changes, independent/maintained school partnerships, adolescent mental health and - joyfully - the wonderful achievements of Olympic and Paralympic athletes in Rio de Janeiro, three of whom were guests at the Association dinner that evening, much to everyone’s surprise and delight. GSA schools had a pleasingly disproportionate number of medal winners within the successful British Olympic teams.
Delegates then heard from Sir Andrew Carter (Chair of the South Farnham Education Trust) who brought to the Conference his concerns about changes to initial teacher training and its lack of pedagogical and subject content as well as his worries over recruitment and retention issues (there are 500,000 trained teachers in the UK who are not in teaching) and many teachers are increasingly concerned about levels of stress and associated behavior issues amongst adolescents. Sir Andrew also presented further concerns about funding, including schools’ contributions to National Insurance and the apprenticeship levy. He mused about the current government emphasis on the creation of new grammar schools and how this might affect existing independent–state school partnerships.
Sir Andrew ended his presentation with a question as to whether all schools should be made independent!
A further presentation focused on girls and Physics and ways to generate a greater take-up of girls in a subject that underpins so much cutting-edge research in the UK. This was followed by a discussion on overseas opportunities for schools. Delegates then gathered at Christ Church Cathedral for Evensong.
On Tuesday the conference heard an inspirational talk from Michael Ramsden, the International Director of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (an intriguing organisation that combines evangelical Christianity, Philosophy, Ethics and Internationalism) and Joint Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.
Michael asked what made a ‘successful person’ and linked it to identity, destiny, wellbeing, affluence and security. He observed that 25% of all individuals in highly developed countries had some kind of mental ‘disturbance’, at some point in their lives. He then delineated a tripartite, Aristotelian classification of human identity and action – Ethos, Pathos and Logos.
Questions Michael raised under ‘Ethos’ included what ethics did we live by, whom did we trust and how do we decide how we are to live.
Under ‘Pathos’ he asked what directs and controls our passions, how we could step off the hedonistic treadmill that so ensnared much of our society, how we could prevent blocking out our sense of reality and our dissatisfaction with quality of life by obsessive use of social media and how we could free ourselves from our fixation with an idealised life as portrayed on TV and through advertisements.
Under ‘Logos’ he posed the question ‘What are we for?’ and explored our societal disagreement about what ‘good’ looks like.
In a complex but highly condensed final section of his talk Michael looked at our capacity to deal with failure, our hope of redemption, our capacity to forgive and be forgiven, our inconsistent approach to defining and living ‘the good life’ and the paradox of beauty and selflessness co-existing with evil and selfishness.
Michael is a speaker that I would commend highly to schools.
The final sessions of the conference included views on the current educational landscape from Barnaby Lennon (Chair of the independent Schools’ Council), Sian Carr (ASCL President) and Christine Ryan (CEO and Chief Inspector of the Independent Schools Inspectorate). This was followed by two sessions on women in leadership with an encouragement to work tirelessly to improve further the influence of women in senior posts everywhere.
I am very grateful to have been invited to a thought-provoking event in which it was possible to speak with a Heads from a number of our member schools.
Meetings and Conferences
The following are confirmed for the coming Spring (Lent) term.
- Thursday, 26th January, 5.30 (for 6.00 pm) – 7.30 pm – meeting of the north London Chaplains’ group, Royal Masonic School Rickmansworth, hosted by its Chaplain John Quill, to include supper and a discussion about the ‘Mindfulness in Schools’ project and its impact on the work of school chaplains
- Wednesday, 22nd February, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm – ‘Quiet Day’ meeting (led by Brother Sam from the Hillfield Community) of the Bath and Wells school chaplains’ group, Diocesan Centre, Glastonbury
- Wednesday, 15th March, 10.00 am – 3.00 pm - meeting of the Chester school chaplains’ group, Church House, Runcorn
Other meetings will be placed on the ‘Events’ section of the website as and when they are arranged.
We have had an offer from the Headmistress of St Mary’s School Shaftesbury to host a regional meeting for chaplains in central southern and south-west England (and, indeed elsewhere). We have had a further offer from Stephen Padfield, Chaplain of the King’s School, Rochester to host a meeting for chaplains in the south east and London. If anyone would like to support such meetings during the spring (Lent) Term, do please let us know. Topics that seems currently of great concern to chaplains include adolescent mental health and school ethos and values. We could arrange for speakers on these two topics (or others that you may suggest) if there appears to be a potentially viable attendance. Lunch or supper would be provided.
We are also very interested in offering a day on ‘New to Chaplaincy’ for those who have recently begun this ministry or who are contemplating it. If potentially interested individuals are known to readers of this Newsletter do please ask them about such a meeting and suggest that they contact us. A suitable gathering can then be arranged in a helpful location.
ADVANCE NOTICE – FOURTH NATIONAL SCHOOL CHAPLAINS’ CONFERENCE
GROWING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Wednesday 21st June – Friday 23rd June 2017 at Liverpool Hope University.
The programme for this major conference is now taking shape and it includes a growing but as yet incomplete range of keynote speakers (currently Dr. Paula Gooder, Professor Gerald Pillay and Jan Graffius - Curator of Stonyhurst College) as well as an extensive range of seminars on topics requested by chaplains. The Liverpool Hope campus has proved very popular with those who have attended the previous three such conferences and we would encourage you to apply early. The basic conference fee is £375 but SCALA members receive a £50 discount and those members who apply before 31st January 2017 are eligible for a further £30 ‘early bird’ discount so that the total cost falls to £295 – outstanding value for a residential conference of this quality and duration. Further details and an electronic application form are available on the SCALA website – www.scala.uk.net
Advent and Christmas
Advent is so many things. It is the beginning of the Church’s year in which the key events of Christ’s incarnation - his life as a human being - his birth, childhood, ministry, death and resurrection are represented in the patterns of worship of the Church. It is a time of looking forward, of anticipation of Christ’s arrival on earth as a fragile newborn, his parents far from their home, but their infant known by strangers for what he was and what he would become.
Advent is also a time of preparation, of searching within ourselves for our readiness to receive God in our lives, our actions, and our aspirations. There is always a tendency to portray Christ’s coming into the world as the ultimate remedy for all the ills that afflict humanity rather than as a means of helping us to cope with and try to heal the dislocations and dysfunctions of the world. In this sense, Advent gives us an opportunity to review the whole impact of God in the world, of God in our lives and the extent to which we recognise the actuality and potential of God’s involvement in his creation. That is why Advent Gospel readings emphasise watchfulness, alertness and a capacity to remain aware of the transience of life’s events compared to the eternality of life with God, promised to all those who have faith in him. Advent combines awesome responsibility with awesome prospects. What a way to start the Church’s year and what a way to end what has been a long and arduous term for all colleagues.
May all our readers, when it comes, have a peaceful and blessed Christmas, followed by a New Year that brings hope and fulfilment to all those who make up the immensely precious and formative school communities that chaplains serve.
Gordon M W Parry