I recently spent a few days in a junior school on placement as part of my training in the church as a curate. The aim was to ‘get under the skin’ of a church school and observe how schools and churches work together or don’t and why. My visit was curtailed by snow days but I learnt an incredible amount in the placement and it was a happy positive time.
The head gave me 3 hours of her time on day 1. The deputy head drew up a timetable so I could experience many aspects of school life. Highlights were playing tag in the reception class playground, chatting with staff over coffee and lunch and being inspired by good leadership to provide modern facilities and good staff development all in a very creative community. I spent time in one to one special needs classes as well as a session on dementia awareness linked with children’s visits to an old peoples home. I was quizzed in assembly about my role and calling and I told them about Jesus and how he guides us then promptly became the honoured guest and gave out achievement certificates before the children went back to class. I discussed with the head how the church and the school worked together in the past and how during a vacancy (when churches are between vicars which can last up to 18 months) this can impact the local school drastically – often the forgotten part of a vacancy when the needs of the worshipping parish community need to be met first just to keep public worship services going. The parish are often left to hold the reins and have no capacity to continue with established work in the local school. hhmmm – definitely food for thought in managing vacancies.
Question 1: Should the needs of church schools be specifically added to the job specification of the new interim minister roles that are being rolled out to plug the gap in vacancies?
My role at Bath Abbey includes being the chaplain to young people and families. We have 20 boys in a choir, 20 girls and about 20 children that come at various times to Sunday groups. That is 60 children coming regularly as part of our worshipping community. I was struck at the school – who welcomed me with open arms – how I had spoken to 600 children in the first half an hour at assembly explaining how Jesus made a difference in our lives. I know numbers aren’t everything but the difference struck me. Later the same day I had the chance to take two RE classes of 30 children in each and asked the children to think for a moment and write down the biggest question they would like to ask God and consider how they were going to find out the answer. They duly wrote it in their books and we talked through some of them leaving them with much to ponder and hopefully follow up. Such a privilege. There was complete freedom to share the message of the bible, to speak openly. It is amazing how a clerical collar gives permission and respect in our schools. Having been involved in a school for street children in Beijing China 10 years ago this freedom is ingrained in me and never taken for granted. In China I had to cover my face in the streets to avoid the Christian school I was working at becoming vulnerable to police inspection simply because a white western pedrson was seen near it. Contrast that with the opportunity to share the saving gospel message of Jesus freely in our schools in the UK and you see it as an incredible opportunity.
Question 2: If youth and children’s work is a priority for the diocese and our church today – Why are we training and resourcing vicars to manage small rural churches (albeit big clusters of rural churches) often with very few children attending when we could be witnessing and sharing the gospel in our busy needy schools?
What was my biggest learning about the lives of young people?
It was the negative impact social media is having on the expectation of young people living a fulfilled life, and personal identity and self image. (Social media was also named as the most important factor affecting young people lives at a youth conference recently by a chaplain of a university) If social media is so important maybe as a church we need to ask
Question 3 Why does the church not prioritise modelling good social media behaviour and also engage in debates and teaching about how to manage social media for young people?
John 10:10 says:
“I have come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly”.
At the moment social media is robbing the next generation of this full abundant life.
Lots of questions and very few answers but the church of tomorrow has to begin with asking the questions of today.