Director’s Newsletter – June 2016
A season of gatherings
Schools always find that the summer or Trinity term brings its own distinctive pressures that include examinations and all that surrounds them, planning for the next academic year and yet the continuation of the existing year. There is also the planning and execution of Commemoration, Prize-Giving or Speech Day as a grand finale to the year. Then organisations such as SCALA have the temerity to organise events for its members and to urge them to attend!
SCALA members have been involved in a number of events in different parts of the country since Easter, all of which we hope have been of distinct benefit in various ways. What follows are summaries of their transactions.
Boars Hill ‘Quiet’ Conference
After Easter, members of both SCALA and TISCA met for a ‘Quiet Conference’ at the Boars Hill Carmelite Retreat House, just outside Oxford. The principal speakers were Anthony Buckley (who is both a Trustee of SCALA and of TISCA) and Alison Adams, the Sub-Dean of Leicester Cathedral, who is a former Director of SCALA’s predecessor organisation, the Bloxham Project and who has also been a prison chaplain. Anthony led participants in a most insightful study of themes from the Bible – taken from the Books of Ruth, Jonah and sections of Exodus -that are not possibly as well-known as others. Anthony’s capacity to relate the content and context of his chosen texts to contemporary issues and situations was remarkable and all those who heard him benefited from the profundity, insight and humility of his quietly spoken words.
Alison Adams spoke about identity from her wide experience of chaplaincy, both in schools and in a prison, together with how identity connects with our own capacity to relate to each other and to God. Her final talk focused on Leicester’s preparations for the re-interment of the remains of King Richard III in the Cathedral. Alison’s gift to the Conference was one of personal insight, enormous understanding of the role of chaplain and wider issues of vocation, purpose, meaning and destiny encountered daily within the ministry of chaplaincy and placed centre-stage by the events that followed from the discovery of the remains of Richard III. Despite the difficulties of the conference venue (a section of which was being re-built after a serious and corrosive oil leak), those who attended did feel calmed, refreshed and re-energised for the term ahead. It was good to meet old friends there and to make new ones.
Every two years, Stephen Golding organises a superb day in June at Christ’s Hospital on Christian Apologetics. This year, the day (Tuesday 7th June) featured Bishop John Pritchard on ‘Why Christianity Makes Sense’ as well as David Illman, an American seminarian, currently based at the Round Church, Cambridge and Jim Paul from the ‘Abri’ movement.
Bishop John emphasised that schools were indeed the ‘front line’ for apologetics. In schools was the opportunity to offer Christianity as interesting, accessible, and connecting with young people. Bishop John explored issues of religious language, claiming that most of it was inaccessible to the under-35s. He categorised personal feelings and experiences of – amongst others - incompleteness, ‘messiness’, yearning for the absolute, being ‘fully alive’, responses to the arts, suffering, brokenness and transcendence all as offering platforms for apologetic conversations. He adduced quotations from an impressively wide range of ’secular’ individuals who admitted to many of the feelings and experiences Bishop John had mentioned. He then delineated the context of Christian apologetics as currently embracing the actuality and contextualising of suffering, science and religion, perceptions of the Church, the categorisation of knowledge, a sense of wonder and the shattering effect of a personal encounter with Christ.
In Bishop John’s second talk, he answered his own question ‘Why does Christianity make sense?’ by enumerating the belief of some 2.3 billion Christians worldwide, its focus on a person not a theory, its affirmation of the value of every human being, the simplicity but subtlety of the Trinity, its realism about evil, its bias towards the disadvantaged, its affirmation of the wonder of material creation, its active rather than passive focus, its radical assessment of life and death, power and powerlessness, its trans-cultural locations and its ultimate ‘core value’ of love, however painful that might be.
Bishop John’s two presentations were memorable, wide-ranging, erudite and personally powerful. Some of his observations can be found in his newest book ‘Something More’ which is mentioned again below.
David Illman gave an intellectual underpinning of Christian apologetics and Jim Paul spoke about the philosophy and work of ‘L’Abri’. He emphasised in particular, love in diversity, love and forgiveness, the sense of self, doubts, mysteries and certainties.
This outstanding day was immensely nourishing to all who participated in it and we are most grateful to Stephen Golding for organising and hosting it.
TISCA Main Meeting
The annual ‘Main’ meeting of TISCA took place the following week (Tuesday 14th June) in London on the theme of ‘British Values: A Christian Critique’. The principal speakers were Elaine Storkey and Mark Meynell. Both divided their presentations into different sections. Elaine Storkey explored firstly the relationship between the spirit and the letter of the law and the divine origin and ownership of the ‘deeper’ law in its widest sense as the background and framework for human flourishing. She quoted Christ as insisting on our fitness for purpose under the law (Matthew 5: 13). ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ More specifically she referred to Christ as having stated (Matthew 5: 17) ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.’ There was then a fuller referral to Matthew 23 in which Christ explores the necessity for the underpinning of love in relation to the law, castigates the hypocritical bending of the law for the purposes of the rich and powerful and emphasises the need to avoid neglect of the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith. Elaine Storkey then related this to current international issues around tax-havens, ‘vulture funds’ and land-grabbing. This wider context made it more difficult to apply the concept of ‘British Values’ with integrity.
Mark Meynell examined the provenance of political involvement with ‘British Values’ citing Margaret Thatcher’s reference to good housekeeping, John Major’s mantra of ‘back to basics’ and Tony Blair’s promise of ‘purer than pure’. He then examined the politics of mistrust and the prevalent culture of suspicion including the omni-presence of CRB/DBS checks and the seemingly greater abuse of power the more we are regulated. He noted that the theologian, Jurgen Moltmann had observed the changing emphasis within Theology from a late twentieth century concern with content to an early twenty-first century concern with context such as oppression, liberation and ‘hot-button’ topics such as sexuality and equality, religious universalism (‘they’re all the same really’) and the presence or absence of divine judgment. He explored one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment, the overarching importance of human reason and the relegation of ‘truth’ to a subjective, personal context. He expressed concern about the dominance of ‘political correctness’, for the capacity of a whole society to deny self-evident truths such as the actuality of the Holocaust, for the growth of suspicion and hatred of ‘the other’ and the corrosive effect that this has.
Mark Meynell then developed themes around the Christian foundation for educational values and ethos. This included a realistic, Biblically-based Christian understanding of our ‘creatureliness’ and our human nature and a belief in the possibility of goodness overcoming evil – not the easiest of beliefs to maintain in the last century. In the end, Christianity sets the moral and ethical bar at the highest level and this should always be our aim. That is our task.
Elaine Storkey in her second presentation focused more specifically on the source of ‘British Values’. She related them to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and also to secular humanism. What are they? She then listed them as the rule of law, democracy, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. Did they relate at all to Biblical values? She suggested that the principal Biblical source was the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. From this source (Christ’s teaching) come the equal significance of all human life – no elitism, freedom from servitude, freedom of conscience and choice, freedom of worship and witness – or not, integrity of word and action and responsibility, accountability and acknowledgment of personal decisions. Why have they come to prominence now? She identified the contexts of multiculturalism, the need to counter radicalisation, the need to reinforce to significance of the law, the need to stem the tide of intolerance, victimisation and targeted violence. There were parallel developments in other countries such as Norway which inducted new citizens into ‘European’ values, particularly relating to the treatment of women.
Elaine Storkey then examined the evolution and growth of values from deep foundational questions which include ‘who or what is God?’, ‘who am I?’, ‘what is reality?’, ‘what is the basis of morality?’ and ‘what is wrong with the world?’ She then listed a set of ‘Enlightenment Values’ which included rational autonomy, freedom and liberty, freedom of conscience, responsibility and choice, the sovereignty of the individual, pragmatism not dogmatism, duty and benevolence, elimination of the supernatural, enlightened self-interest and laws enshrining individual rights.
This was all to be considered within the social contexts of school communities where the religious world-view would touch and might help to shape perspectives on the whole of life including the educational, economic and political rationale of a society. Religion and belief were coming up against post-modern thinking that was to an extent reinforced by much of the above. It emphasized individuality and relativism, it had no overriding meta-narrative it made personal choice supreme and downplayed history and tradition. Elaine Storkey ended her presentations with a series of questions about our identity, the ‘problems’ of suffering and sin and the ultimate God-given power of self-giving love with its capacity for faithfulness, commitment and life in relationship and community. The conference left delegates with very much to digest!
Chaplaincy Central: ‘Inspirational Chaplaincy’
The final conference in which SCALA was involved (SCALA is a sponsor of Chaplaincy Central, and Paul carries out much of its administration) took place in Birmingham on June 15th and brought together some 75 delegates in order to reflect on the diversity of school and FE chaplaincy. It included showcase presentations from individuals in specific chaplaincy contexts and discussion groups in which issues that were of significance to primary, secondary or FE chaplains were aired. What the conference affirmed was the very great diversity of both chaplains, their roles and contexts and the continuing need for networks in which their professional practice can be shared and enhanced. The showcases included the views of a ‘new’ chaplain and what had been discovered about the role as well as its relationship to the wider church and the expectations of the school. There was a presentation on teenage mental health – one of the most pressing issues that impinges on chaplaincy today. There was also a presentation on how spiritual support was given by a chaplain to school staff (including the head and his wife) and a very wide range of children, both individually and collectively. Talks on the actual and perceived nature of chaplaincy were given by Garry Neave and your Director. The event was judged as most successful and the need for more regional networking affirmed.
SCALA doesn’t always get to hear of all local meetings (do, please inform us if they are taking place) but it has been represented at the summer Bath and Wells school chaplains’ meeting which featured Brother Sam from Hillfield Priory in Dorset, talking passionately about Christianity, the environment and how this community lives out its commitment to conserve and enhance its environment as well as inviting schools to become involved. We were also represented at the North London ‘catch-up’ meeting (and meal) held at Aldenham School and hosted by Simon Chapman.
The Chester meeting has also just taken place and covered a considerable amount of ground including social media, identity and the implications for chaplaincy, worship and prayer patterns and the projection of faith into the wider physical and perceptual communities that young people inhabit through art, music and connections being forged between form groups of a particular school and its local parish church.
Dates for your diary 2015-2016
Many more details will be available in the September newsletter that will be published close to the start of the new school year but here is what is known so far.
- Wednesday, 12th October, 10.00 am – 12.00 pm - meeting of the Chester school chaplains’ group, Bishop’s High School, Chester
- Thursday 13th October 10.00 am – 3.30 pm – Fettes College, Edinburgh – a major Scottish Conference ‘Discovering the Person in Pastoral Care’ at which the principal speaker will be Revd Dr Emma Loveridge, Director of ‘Rafan House’ a psychotherapeutic centre for families and children. This is intended to attract not only Scottish delegates but also those from the North of England (or, indeed, any part of the UK).
- Wednesday 9th November – 10.00 am -3.00 pm Chester Cathedral – ‘The joys and challenges for joint Anglican and Roman Catholic Schools’. The principal speakers will be the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Most Revd Malcolm McMahon and the Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, Revd Nigel Genders,
ADVANCE NOTICE – FOURTH NATIONAL SCHOOL CHAPLAINS’ CONFERENCE
Wednesday 21st June – Friday 23rd June 2017 at Liverpool Hope University.
There will be a range of local network events to include at the very least Bath and Wells, Chester, North London and York. We will publicise the dates and venues as soon as we know them.
New to Chaplaincy
We would very much like to hold a day, or part-day, event for those who are new or relatively new to school chaplaincy. It could be held in one or a number of locations, depending on demand. If anyone knows of colleagues who would be interested in such a day do please let Paul Hansford (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com) know and we will respond.
These books have recently been published by SCALA members or by those that we have heard at recent conferences. They are all highly recommended.
Anthony Buckley ‘Worthy of Trust’ Highland Books, Godalming ISBN 978-1-897913-93-2
Stephen Golding ‘Connect: Friendship, God, Faith’ Amazon, ISBN 978-1-500780-60-9
Mark Meynell ‘What makes us human?’ The Good Book Company, ISBN 978-1-909919-05-1
John Pritchard ‘Something More’ SPCK, London ISBN 978-0-281-07352-8
A different time to come
May all who read this newsletter find time over the summer to savour more of God’s creation through the beauty of human fellowship, the glories of landscape and the divine poetry that is to be found in the abundance of life on this earth. May such savouring re-energise and renew our determination to offer the possibilities and promises of God to all in our school communities and all to whom we minister.
Gordon M W Parry