Director’s Newsletter - November 2015
The Passage of Time
It seems that almost everyone to whom I have spoken recently has commented upon the speed with which this term has rushed forward. It is of the nature of schools that the pace of life is frenetic and this is one of the key reasons why it is often so difficult for a chaplain to create quiet, contemplative time and space within such a milieu. Nevertheless, it is vital for the health of a school community and all its members that chaplains do this because reflection, opportunities for prayer, chances to contemplate challenging beliefs and difficult circumstances – highlighted by the media almost daily – are an integral part of holistic education for which school chaplains and their supportive senior leaders are an embodiment.
Such an opportunity is occurring at present in the form of Remembrance, which of course, takes somewhat different forms in different schools. For many, it is a great challenge to argue that God has a presence in the activities that are associated with war or the consequences of war. We know that one of the consequences of the First World War was the abandonment of faith by many and the choosing of pessimism over optimism by a significant number of artists, writers and composers. Elements of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ ‘Pastoral Symphony’, completed in 1922, reflect the melancholy with which he projected his profound experiences of his military life as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps and as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery during some of the worst episodes of the ‘war to end all wars’. Much of his music, including the second and fourth movements of his ‘Pastoral Symphony’ is grounded in a beauty that seems to radiate transience and loss. This is a defining quality of his ever-popular ‘The Lark Ascending’ which Vaughan-Williams began at the start of the First World War but finished after it. This is by no means his only composition to straddle the beginning and ending of that war. His cantata ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ which was completed in 1936 contains sections that were begun in 1914 and is wholly devoted to a contemplation of the character, consequences and responses to war as expressed in Biblical texts and the poetry of Walt Whitman. After the Second World War, Vaughan-Williams wrote his Sixth Symphony, the final movement of which has been likened by a number of commentators to a depiction of the landscape of a nuclear holocaust.
Yet, despite the destruction, the waste, the wholesale human tragedy of war, an indestructible aspect of our faith is that of hope, hope for a better future, hope as expressed in the Prayer of our Lord himself that ‘…thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.’ Keeping the flame of hope and faith alive is surely the most precious task of a school chaplain – as it is, indeed, of any Christian minister.
National Standards for School Chaplaincy
Since this topic was raised in my September Newsletter, there have been two local meetings of chaplains at which the draft national standards – in revised form – have been discussed. There is evidence of increasing acknowledgment that some attempt should be made to define nationally the scope of the work of a school chaplain and give this work a professional credibility and currency. This is now starting to happen in a number of dioceses and SCALA is increasing its work with them in order to establish a benchmark against which schools can advertise for, recruit and task such chaplains. The two groups of school chaplains, from different parts of the country, have suggested further amendments and the additionally revised document is now attached to this Newsletter. All readers are urged to comment upon it at the earliest opportunity so that it can become a truly useful and defining document in the further development of this (to employ Revd Dr John Caperon’s phrase) vital ministry. Please email your comments to either the Director (email@example.com) or the Administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
‘Values, Christian Values and Schools’
Many readers will know that one of the documents given to delegates at the Liverpool conference was a SCALA publication entitled ‘’Values, Christian Values and Schools: a Polemic’. It has now been reprinted by Gresham Books and is available from the SCALA office. The cover price is £10 but a £5 discount is available to SCALA members (p&p £1.20). It takes a critical look at the assumptions behind the adoption by schools of so-called ‘Christian’ values and builds a rationale for defining Christian values more closely, whilst, at the same time, acknowledging that Christians cannot claim a monopoly of ‘moral’ behaviour. It is designed to challenge chaplains, senior leadership teams and the Church as a whole in relation to the embedding of Christian values in schools. Again, feedback from readers would be very much appreciated.
This academic year SCALA has not tried to build such a dense programme of events because it is increasingly difficult to enable potential participants to leave their schools during the working day. There are, however, events in the pipeline including a day for school chaplains in the Chichester Diocese (and adjacent areas) to be held at Bishop Bell School, Eastbourne on Tuesday 26th January. National Standards and Values will be on the agenda of this meeting. A quiet day for chaplains in the Bath and Wells Diocese and adjacent areas is being arranged for Wednesday 3rd February in Glastonbury. The next meeting of the Chester chaplains will be taking place on Monday March 7th at St Chad’s joint Anglican and Roman Catholic School in Runcorn. We are in the early stages of organising a North West Regional Day conference at Rossall School on 17th March at which aspects of social media and their impact on young people will be discussed. We are still trying to fix the date for the postponed ‘New to Chaplaincy’ day.
We are also organizing a ‘retreat’-style conference in May, jointly with The Independent Schools’ Christian Alliance (TISCA) at Boars Hill Carmelite Retreat House near Oxford from Monday 9th to Wednesday 11th May.
There are other network groups that are planning to meet, including those in North London and York. SCALA will publish full details of such meetings when notification is received.
SCALA is always pleased to offer professional support to schools over aspects of chaplaincy, the leadership of Christian values and aspects of SMSC and SIAMS inspections. A very modest consultancy fee, heavily discounted for schools with SCALA members, is levied but this represents extremely good value for money when compared with prevailing market rates.
Strength in Community
SCALA is the largest national network of school chaplains of all or any Christian denomination. It thrives on the expertise of its members and their willingness to contribute so generously to the common good of Christian chaplaincy in schools. Please continue to support us through individual or corporate membership and please encourage those dioceses in which operational knowledge of school chaplaincy is still embryonic to engage with us wherever possible.
I hope that the second half of this busy term will prove to be one in which, despite the acute pressures of school life, the joy of the faith we all share can be communicated and realised in all the corners of our communities.
Gordon M W Parry