ARDINGLY MEETING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH AND SCHOOL The following came out of a regional meeting at Ardingly College in November 2001 and hopefully provides valuable food for thought for people in both denominational and non-denominational schools, for those in Chaplaincy and those with less specifically Christian roles. We asked ourselves what the picture looks like, what we would like to see happening and what stops it happening. The discussion, while very wide ranging, given that it was a group of mainly but not exclusively Chaplains, focussed particularly on the role of a Chaplain. This write-up is not intended as an exhaustive thesis on these issues but, rather, as some reflections by one group of people at a moment in time – a reflection with which, however, we and others may well linger or journey onward. If anyone wishes to comment, add to or expand upon these reflections, please e-mail me – the website could be a useful place to develop further thinking. In considering the Church in relationship to the school, we should consider both at different levels. There is the school as institution and as community, and with oneself within that; and there is the Church as an institution or structure, as various bodies and as individuals. The following diagram might be helpful: Institution Self Community SCHOOL Bodies CHURCH Individuals Institution Of these relationships, that of institution to institution would seem the least manoeuvrable, in that schools have particular foundations which define their relationship to the Church. Those without specific Church foundations have some latitude, although they too have been set up in a particular way, either as maintained schools working within Government legislation and guidelines, or as independent schools with a particular brief. We might wish to debate these relationships, but in practical terms the other strands above offer more food for personal thought and action. The relationship between the Church and the school as community may be defined primarily in terms of local links, either with bodies or individuals, or it may be defined in terms of the Diocesan structure. If it is a local link, then there may be opportunities for practical links in terms of shared worship, a building used by both parish and school and the involvement of local Church staff in the school – as Governors, leading worship, in practical ways or whatever. Where there is Diocesan involvement we are looking at the involvement of their personnel within the life of the school and the school’s place within the wider planning and network. Then there is our personal involvement as individuals within the life of the wider Church – where we worship, whether we are involved in Diocese or Deanery, how we are kept in touch, with whom we relate and how we are perceived. This latter for clergy also raises the issue of our place within the order of things in the wider Church – how peripheral or central we are. In examining these issues, the question raises itself as to how much of a gap of perception there is between the understanding of people, lay and ordained, workers and worshippers within the Church but outside schools, and our own self-understanding – of the school and of our ministry. We in schools sometimes use the language of ‘gathered Church’ and of ‘parish’ to describe our school experience, and may variously describe ourselves as pastors, missioners, apologists and other such terminology. Some of this language will resonate with colleagues outside of schools and some may jar. Where are the points of contact and where are the gaps and barriers? Is there simply a lack of understanding or are institutions and mechanisms the hindrance? Is it just that we are not as much at the forefront of things as we would like to think?! Within schools it is important to recognise and respond to different constituencies – British, non-Christian, overseas, boarding, monastery and whole-school - to name a few. We must also be aware that, while dual loyalty is possible and a reality for some, we are also reaching out to people who will not necessarily be attending a parish Church, for a myriad of different reasons – and we need to be aware of and honest about those reasons. While schools are islands within the Diocesan or Church structure, and boarding schools particularly can be inward looking communities, parishes are increasingly becoming congregational and they may have misinformed expectations of a school and Christians within it, to which these should not try to conform. Equally, in some cases the relationship with the local parish can be quite creative, whereby the local priest/minister comes into the school, possibly functioning in a chaplaincy role. Boarders may, in some cases, fruitfully be able to attend Sunday parish services and generally a sharing of resources is possible. In these situations, there is benefit for the parish, and parishioners may be picked up through the parish ministry in the school. However this scenario is generally underdeveloped. It is important to articulate a concept of ministry to the whole school, and not merely to a particular group, even given a school’s particular denominational affiliation. This is all too easily misunderstood. Good practice occurs, for example, where events which draw on shared journeys and experience are themselves shared – specifically perhaps where confirmation preparation crosses denominational boundaries, and where chaplains support pupils by attending and taking part in baptism and confirmation services of denominations other than their own. In examining the Church – school relationship, confirmation itself can seem very much the sharp end, where the practice ranges from school Chaplains making easy bookings within a Bishop’s diary, year on year, but with other Bishops refusing to consider confirmation in school chapels. The question raises itself whether pupils should be confirmed at school, in the Diocese or at home; and there are, of course, pupils who are prepared for confirmation at home – what expectations and liaison does the home church community expect of the school and vice versa? It is worth noting that school confirmations comprise a large percentage of the national figure. A similar range of attitudes is to be found in terms of Chaplains’ ministry, again focussed through a rite of passage – the licensing – and ranging from hostility and perfunctory motions, to genuine warmth and a ceremony involving the school community. Clearly from the Chaplain’s personal point of view, the latter enormously affirms his/her sense of ministry and sets the tone for a potentially healthy and beneficial relationship within the wider Church network. There is some suspicion of ordained ministers who choose to work in independent schools (further tinged regrettably with a suspicion of men in this role in particular), where other sector ministries do not suffer this feeling of marginalisation. A particular example of good practice is where the (in this case Anglican) Chaplain, employed full-time by the school, nonetheless is recognised as part of the Diocesan clergy body, regularly attends Deanery events, some of which are held in school, and where the parish is praying for the school and there is guest preaching both ways. However this takes time, energy and understanding on both sides – whose responsibility is it to develop and sustain this? The Bloxham Project and/or school Chaplains’ networks can greatly help Chaplains feel part of their own professional group, for, with the best will in the world, the Deanery (or denominational equivalent) will inevitably tend to focus on many issues which are not central to school ministry. In contrast, the vast majority of the school community will receive and react to Chaplains as Church – for good or for bad - and may not always easily perceive the nuances of identity we assume. Thus, while we may be honourably pursing particular lines, we may feel slightly unnerved when confronted, for example, with the request for ‘a proper prayer meeting’! There is a danger that Chapel worship is not taken as seriously as it might or should be, not only by those who would rather not be there, but also by those who consider themselves as serious Christians. We should wholeheartedly resist the Chaplain’s being perceived merely as another teacher, or as not having a role on the pastoral team – both of which, regrettably, can occur. It is unfortunate that many people will consider themselves as expert teachers merely because they have been through school at some time in their lives: by no means everyone nowadays has been through Church or Chapel, but people can similarly devalue the Chaplain’s or minister’s expertise. In practical terms, the Chaplain, like all good teachers but with an extra twist to it, has to balance the exercise of authority with the development of good pastoral relationships. Some Chaplains find any disciplinary role hard: others, particularly those who are priests or ministers but not Chaplains accept and work through such tensions as do lay people. For a Chaplain, the business of purposeful loitering is very important – finding opportunities to make contact, to be approachable, to build relationships and just to be there for people. Advice to a new Chaplain would include seeking opportunities for plenty of contact, and to the school to enable the Chaplain to do this fully, by not loading him/her with a full timetable and by going easy on rotas and duties. Equally, it is important that the Chaplain is fully involved in the messy daily life of the school and also doesn’t allow him/herself to become merely a place of refuge. What is, therefore, our task within schools? Without exploring in detail Chaplains’ role descriptions, it surely qualifies as missionary work, encompassing the development of spirituality, the nurturing of a community of prayer, developing people with Christian gospel values and nurturing the faith – but not necessarily producing good little Catholics or Anglicans, for example. It is important for Chaplains in particular, but other Christians also, ‘to see it as something so that I know what I am doing’ – on the surface a trite remark but actually highlighting the depth and intangibility of our task. How far can we know what we are doing and how far is it measurable? There are few results to show from school Chaplaincy and good self-understanding is essential, not only in practical management terms to enable us to focus properly on the important issues, but also so that we work out, in faith, our ministry and calling, starting right from the ontological argument – are we Chaplains or are we doing Chaplaincy?
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