I finished the last post with a tentative understanding that we might become more and more, as a school, like a worshipping community: a school community that deliberately and invitationally aimed to support and strengthen the worshipping and faith-discipleship lives of our children and their families who had committed themselves to Jesus Christ, by providing opportunity for worship and teaching, of prayer and ministry, of outreach and pastoral support, either from the chaplaincy team based in the school OR by facilitating the ministry of the churches to which our families belong, in the focal point of Christ the Sower Primary School.
This is probably further than I have hitherto imagined, but after a day of discussion in London on Friday, it seems to me almost inescapable as a direction for the school.
20 or so of us were meeting in offices on Regent’s Wharf in King’s Cross as a so-called “expert panel,” to scope a research project for the National Institute for Christian Education Research (NICER) at Canterbury Christ Church University. The project proposal was concerned with exploring the possibilities that lay at the nexus of church, family and church school to support families and schools in passing on the Christian faith effectively to the next generation. I was invited there as a head of a church school, and my credentials really came from the work I have been doing with Professor Trevor Cooling over the last 3 years in exploring an active theological approach to being a church school that makes a difference. One of two other church school heads were listed on the attendee list, but over the course of the very structured day, I did not interact with them.
Towards the middle of the afternoon, during which we had talked about defining this kind of research project almost “with the end in mind” (itself a fairly contentious suggestion for researchers, who generally like to keep their options open), one of the table groups who had formed during the day (to discuss different aspects of the work and to help raise the right questions) postulated a church school ministry that might support a triad of:
- prayer and spiritual development
- justice and social action
- formation and discipleship
This is exactly what I have been trying to convince people of over the last 4-5 years, so it was a joy to hear. Essentially, the spokesperson for the table said, we need to find a way of creating a worshipping community. At that, others joined in, and it became clear that we were very close to the heart of God for the day – that He had spoken prophetically and that we were being called, to some degree, to be prophets in our generation to help call families back to worship and praise, through, possibly, the facilitation and medium of church schools.
Go back a bit. Ann Casson, who was leading the day, and who will be the senior researcher on the project, made it clear that we were coming from a background of declining impartation of the Christian faith from parents to children. Despite the fact that 70% of parents want their children to become Christians, (and the other 30%?), most are not giving their children a clear enough understanding of the faith for choosing it to be a realistic option for their children. Reasons given for this failure are fear of getting it wrong, the unwillingness to impose our faith on our children, and the quality of lives lived in the home that might negatively influence children (amongst others). Ann was coming from the basis that this is undesirable. What was desirable, as Psalm 145 says, is that we find ways of helping Christian parents, by using church schools and church ministries, to pass the faith actively on to their children so that they have a real choice. This has all been documented well in a Theos publication entitled Passing on Faith, by Olwyn Mark. Even reading the executive summary is disheartening!
Ann felt that it was in primary schools where there was real opportunity to make up some of this ground, and the project wanted, by defining and then asking the right questions, to support primary schools in exploring the ways in which they facilitate faith, and how that might show itself in the sort of faith conversations that church schools have with parents and children.
The remainder of the day was a study of trying to define the terms we needed and then debating the questions we might ask, and then, finally, setting down what we already knew and what was already there. This was a great resource-collecting opportunity, and my notebook is full of references to opportunities, to publications, to ways that different dioceses have tried to communicate with parents in church and school.
What it will all lead to is uncertain. We have asked to be kept in touch with how the research is going, and there was an opportunity for us to complete a questionnaire and express interest as a school. This would have to be done with staff and governors.
But the big question hovering over the school is how we decide to create, through prayer, worship and vision, a place which can truly be called a worshipping community. This will become a key area of research and planning, of reflection and a defined understanding of ourselves as a school with a Christian identity and purpose. No answers yet, and the new SIAMS framework will of course not help in this, but there is a sense of possibility. Leading worship on Monday gave me the courage and vision to try new things, to bring the bible more to life for children and adults, and to posit a counter-cultural view of what constitutes goodness and happiness.