I have been a bit absent from this blog for a fortnight or so. Not that there hasn’t been tons going on – it has been the tons going on that has kept me from writing. And over the holidays there will be a chance to reflect and write more. In the meantime, we have said goodbye to a gorgeous and hugely loved cohort of Year 6 children, many of them here for the full eight years! This morning’s presentation was moving and deep – hearing Y6 sing to us “Everything’s changed for the better/nothing’s the same, we’re together/New schools, hope you won’t forget us” and then the school singing to them in return “May the road rise up to meet you/…May God hold you in palm of His hand” was too much for those stoics in Y6, and lots just sat there sobbing. Just writing about it now, and missing them like crazy, is enough to get me going.
Anyway, I am filled with gratitude for having known and taught them – they have truly given me FAR more than I have ever given them, and it is a delight in all sorts of inexpressible ways to have been their headteacher for the last 5 years.
For the record, and because some parents asked me to, here are my valedictory remarks from this morning:
Today is a time for sorrow and for celebration, and both of these emotions have more power when they come together. Sadness and joy come together in an ancient and somehow inspiring Jewish song that says “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” This morning, we have truly seen the harvest of of what each teacher, in tears, frustration and intent, has sown and planted into these lives.
But what sorrow and celebration add up to, where their power lies when they come together, is in resolve and in determination, and in the promise we make to ourselves that we will change, we will improve, we will intentionally alter what we do and how we are. And this is the story of your children as they have grown and built lives with you and with us – the Bible calls this repentance, an unfashionable word, but one that just means changing direction. Many of your children have already made that choice, to determine the direction of their lives. Others will make those decisions over the next few months: for others, it will be a while.
We have all learnt how to live from somebody else: therefore we are all disciples, and all of us have engaged in a form of either conscious or unconscious discipleship. As adults we are the product of our decisions and our intentions and choices – the same for your children.
So, the Bible’s take on this is really simple and straightforward, and goes like this:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
When you get your Bibles, go to the book of Romans, chapter 12, and verse 2 and you will find it.
The world – and here the writer means the culture we live in, its attitudes and its purposes, are not necessarily good for children. Advertisers, gaming merchants, TV program makers, the press and the online media all are trying to create a world of values and virtues that will convince young people to buy their products, watch their programs, play their games. We as a school, and I as a leader in that school, in what we have taught and in what we value, have tried hard to disciple your children in a different direction to this, to be deliberately counter-cultural, to be thinkers for themselves, not accepters of garbage, to recognise rubbish when they see it, and to build their lives on a different and more solid foundation. Some of you have cooperated fully with us in that intention; others have chosen not to. All your children have learnt to live from somebody else!
So this scripture really shows us a way forward. Be transformed, change, live differently, through having your mind renewed, by changing perspective, by not following the crowd, by nurturing the relationships of family and community, of temple, or church or mosque, that are constantly under threat from a materialistic view of life and education, by learning what true self-respect is, and walking as though that mattered, in learning that relationships are more important than stuff, and wisdom is more important than knowledge.
But the world is also a beautiful place, a good creation of a great and kind God who made all of the children and adults in this hall in His own image, so we could show one another what he is like. The world gives us an opportunity to learn. The American humorist Garrison Keillor, writing about this scripture from Romans, said:
Our lovely world has the power to make us brave.
This is from a book called Life among the Lutherans, and it’s a reminder that next year is a great European anniversary – not just 50 years of Milton Keynes – which we must celebrate vigorously by the way! – but 500 years since the Protestant Reformation began in Germany with Martin Luther. So before we present the bibles and dictionaries to the children, can I finish with a poem from one of the greatest Lutheran pastors of the 20th century, martyred by the Nazis in Flossenburg Concentration Camp in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Choose and do what is right, not what fancy takes,
Not weighing the possibilities, but bravely grasping the real,
Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is there freedom.
Come away from your anxious hesitations into the storm of events,
Carried by God’s command and your faith alone.
Then freedom will embrace your spirit with rejoicing.”
(Widerstand und Ergebung, DBW, Bd 8, S.571)