Diocesan director of education, Canon Dr Stephen Green
Not everyone goes to church, but everyone goes to school. As we reach out to transform communities and lives across the diocese, I think one of the best places to start is in schools.
Indeed, our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic tradition famously prioritised school building over church building. Of course, this begs the question: what is the difference? What is the difference between a church school and a parish church? I think the answer is not much! Diocesan schools and colleges are involved in formal worship, informal worship, Alpha, Youth Alpha, prayer spaces, mission projects, shoeboxes at Christmas, community projects and much more besides.
"What is the difference between a church school and a parish church? I think the answer is not much!"
In the last few years I have witnessed a range of spiritual engagement in schools and colleges in this diocese alone. These have included liturgical dance in the chancel of the cathedral, worship academies training aspiring musicians in Christian music, choirs singing in residential care homes, and a year group choosing to meet en masse to pray for their friend injured in a skiing accident.
I have seen teenage children standing on chairs in assembly halls with their hands in the air praising God, and also doing prayer walks around the building. I have seen infant-age children engrossed in Bible stories and then going home to share them with their parents. In this regard 'Open the Book’ is another excellent initiative along with Messy Church and also ‘Godly Play’ in schools.
I have seen school children engaged in raising money for Tearfund and Christian Aid in a variety of creative ways and helping out in community projects such as ‘Hope’ and ‘Ready For Action’. I have seen children in infant and junior schools make exciting displays of Bible stories, write deeply spiritual prayers and participate in lively school assemblies and services in their local parish church.
"I have seen teenage children standing on chairs in assembly halls with their hands in the air praising God"
Schools frequently visit their parish church for harvest, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. There is also an annual leavers’ service at the cathedral. As you can imagine these services are very interactive with the pupils engaged in reading, writing, speaking, listening as well as making things and performing.
For me, Transforming Church, Transforming Lives is about doing things differently. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Church has moved forward and for me our diocesan vision is about carrying that onto the next stage. While Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, the way He is communicated is going to change over time.
Then there is the dimension of mission to those who have never been to church – the statement with which I started. For many families who have had tough experiences, the only Christian they are going to see in that week, or month, or year, is the (head) teacher of their son/daughter’s Church school. We must be filled with grace and compassion of course, but we must also be relevant. This, I feel, is what Transforming Church, Transforming Lives is all about.