Director’s Newsletter March 2015
When they receive this newsletter, most of our readers will be counting the days to the end of the Lent or Spring Term, in which much has been accomplished, certainly judging from the energy and commitment I have encountered in the various school visits I have made recently. It is always fascinating to be able to spend time within a school community, to hear of the detail of its daily life, its ambitions, successes and, from time to time, its concerns as well as the ways in which the Christian vision held by the school and projected by the chaplain and many other colleagues, addresses the joys and sorrows of its members. I remain grateful for the opportunities to visit so many schools.
It was fascinating to see how schools responded to the recent solar eclipse and the excitement of so many observers as the sky darkened and stillness descended upon the earth. ‘From noon on, darkness came over the whole land’ writes St Matthew (Ch. 27:45) in his account of Christ’s crucifixion. Different dimensions of life and feeling come upon us at such times as they must have done so much more powerfully in those who were witnesses to the events of Golgotha during that fateful afternoon, shortly to be recalled in the final events of Passiontide in which we will shortly be caught up.
We have been surrounded over recent days by events of cosmic significance of which the solar eclipse is one. The ‘live’ photographs of the solar corona – the flaming necklace of our sun which enables life as we know it on earth to flourish – were unforgettable and reminded those of faith just how glorious and overwhelming is God’s creation and the earthly home, driven by the sun’s energy, he has given to us.
King Richard III
We have also been drawn into the events that are taking place in and around Leicester this week as the remains of King Richard III were taken to the places that marked the last few tumultuous days and hours of his life and his death, before being brought reverently into the Cathedral Church of St Martin where, beautifully and so poignantly, the office of Compline was said and sung over King Richard’s coffin. Our thoughts and feelings were summarized and explored most profoundly and penetratingly by Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nicholls in a most moving sermon, the text of which can be accessed through this link.
These events have a connection with SCALA insofar as Canon Alison Adams, a former Director of the Bloxham Project (for newer readers, one of the antecedents of SCALA) has been responsible for much of Leicester Cathedral’s planning for the re-burial of the remains of King Richard III. On behalf of SCALA I have already sent our thanks to Alison for the sense of profundity and significance that this event has brought to so many people.
Christian School Values and Distinctiveness
This term has seen a number of new events taking place around the theme of Christian values and distinctiveness in schools. They have all involved a partnership between SCALA and different diocesan networks and have examined the creation, leadership and projection of Christian values in schools. Of course, the Christian outlook on values will always start with ‘the Economy of God’, the consequential assumptions that underpin a radically different view of human life and human flourishing on earth and their juxtaposition with the Kingdom of Heaven.
SCALA has worked with Chester, Chichester, Southwark/London and Blackburn Dioceses, attending or co-organising events for Chaplains and school leaders at Woodchurch Academy (Birkenhead), Lancing College (Sussex), St Cecilia’s Academy (Wandsworth) and Rossall School (Fleetwood). Another such event has also been arranged in conjunction with the Bath and Wells Diocese at the Taunton Academy on Thursday May 7th – Election Day – and all SCALA members in the region, as well as their colleagues, are invited to attend. Details are on the SCALA website under ‘Events’. The North London group of school chaplains, coordinated by one of SCALA’s Trustees, Jan Goodair (Haberdasher’s Boys’) is also going to consider the values agenda at its next meeting at Berkhamsted School on Thursday, April 23rd at 5.30 pm. The whole question of values in schools has risen significantly up the political agenda with the government’s current emphasis on ‘British Values’ and SCALA is preparing a booklet on this subject for the Liverpool Conference.
Bookings for the Liverpool Conference are extremely healthy and we may well have in June the largest attendance of the three such conferences we have organised. It is still not too late to register. Details and an online application form are also easily accessible through the SCALA website. One of the many attractions of Liverpool is the range of chaplains and other pastoral leaders who attend and whose mutual company can be so stimulating. We believe that Liverpool is the largest gathering of school chaplains to be organised in the UK. This year we will be joined by a number of colleagues from overseas including Scandinavia, and the US. Liverpool Hope University is definitely the place to be from Thursday to Saturday, 18th-20th June.
At the Rossall/Blackburn Diocese meeting we were privileged to hear Neville Norcross, a former primary school head, diocesan adviser and consultant, talking about ‘Living Left-Handed in a Right-Handed World’. It was a truly inspirational talk, containing elements of great wisdom and incorporating moments of great humour as well. Neville has recently written a small book in the ‘Grove’ series of educational publications. It is entitled ‘Christian Values for Church Schools – Making Them Count’ and it is highly recommended. It can be obtained through the Grove website - www.grovebooks.co.uk and is one of a growing number of pertinent publications in that series. Another of our Trustees, Anthony Buckley, has also contributed to the series with his very helpful book ‘Help, There’s a School in my Parish’ – a most insightful and informative overview. To add further to the Easter reading list, there is of course the ‘Letter’ from the House of Bishops to the People and Parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015, entitled ‘Who is my neighbour?’ It explores cogently the Christian values that are resident within any measured review of the national and international issues facing the electorate as the election approaches. The text can be downloaded from the Church of England website. Its authors have been branded ‘Communist’ and were roundly condemned by the Daily Mail’s Amanda Platell who explained that it was this kind of thinking that had caused her to leave the Church of England and join the Roman Catholic church, quite failing to appreciate that much of the analysis and questioning of the ‘Letter’ is closely aligned to Catholic social teaching!
Yet another publication that has received significant comment in the media is the recent report by Theos entitled ‘A Very Modern Ministry: Chaplaincy in the UK’. I have had a discussion with its author, Ben Ryan, and SCALA hopes to remain in contact with Theos as it takes further its work on assessing the growing impact of chaplaincy. Details of how to obtain a copy of this book are on the Theos website www.theosthinktank.co.uk from which titles of other significant reports can also be gained.
SCALA’s work during the term
SCALA’s role in affirming and supporting Christian values and ministry in schools has been validated in a rapidly increasing number of contexts during his term. SCALA has been working closely with more dioceses and individual schools as well as other organisations such as the Woodard Corporation and Academies Trust, TISCA, The National Society, the Jesuit order and Scripture Union, through SCALA’s work in helping to set up the virtual chaplaincy resource of ‘Chaplaincy Central’. These are exciting times and I am immensely grateful to all those who help so powerfully with its work. Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nicholls stated very poignantly in his King Richard II address last Sunday that the incorporation of stones from the Greyfriars Church - where the King was first buried – into the fabric of what is now the Cathedral Church of St Martin’s showed that
‘Our Christian histories have become intertwined in a way, we pray, that will now lead to us give a more coherent and united witness to the truths of faith which we proclaim together this evening.’
Sacramental duties and privileges
School chaplains are located at one of the key nodes of this ‘intertwining’. As we journey through Passiontide and sense the nearness of Easter we have overwhelming evidence of how very near can be elements of the Kingdom of God. There is no greater privilege and responsibility than to be demonstrating these realities within our schools and within the lives of those we serve. The breaking of the Easter message into our world is the very finest and most breathtaking revelation of all and I hope that those who are associated with SCALA in any capacity will be encouraged and energized by it to continue their work and their ministry so that our schools can truly radiate the values, the realities and the promises of the Kingdom of God.
Gordon M W Parry