On Saturday morning I have half an hour to address the future staff of the St Lawrence Academy, Scunthorpe about how the Church came to be involved in schools, education and now in sponsoring a City Academy.
One of the first things I need to get over to them is that we are not about being ‘faith schools’. The 143 Church of England Schools in the three LEAs of North, North East and the County of Lincolnshire are community schools with a distinctively Christian ethos. Our schools are not recruiting grounds for the next generations of Churchwardens nor places for religious indoctrination – they are places where the possibilities of God are the background for the life and texture of the school community – and with this background, all are welcomed and valued regardless of whether or not they have a faith.
Many of course would not see it this way and would want Church Schools to be places where faith is nurtured, where religious instruction is woven into the curriculum and where the children of practising Christians are given priority for places. The debate really finds its roots in how you understand the Christian faith – is it something we do to people, or is it something that defines an elect, or is it a vision for being fully human which we share with others?
I believe that Church Schools should fall into the latter category – places of Godly vision. A vision sharpened and focused through the life, teachings and death of Jesus. But you don’t impose a vision – you can only share it and live yourself.
I hope that our schools are places where the community and its children will encounter something of a vision about the God-given dignity of each and every person; where they will experience a vision of a God-given respect for each member of the community; where they will be inspired by a vision of Godly forgiveness and restoration. It is not that these things are absent in non church schools, far from it, but in a Church school we can be quite up-front about the inspiration and source of the values which surround the young people as they take advantage of the opportunities which schools provide.
Our new Academy has at its roots the core values of the Christian faith – truth, justice, forgiveness, generosity and respect. We hope that these will be expressed implicitly and explicitly through the academy’s educational, communal and organisational life, as well as in its physical environment.
It is not what we as a church get out of being the sponsor of an academy, its what we can share and inspire. All too often it can appear that the church is only interested in those outside of its community whilst they are potential recruits to the faith. If this were true, then it would be a parody of the Christian Gospel. Our interest in each and every person is because we believe that each and every person is precious to God, not because of what they believe, but because God believes in them – that’s what his love is all about.
So our involvement in education is an expression of all this – an opportunity to serve the community by offering a context for young people to flourish in the life which is theirs.
Now I have to work out how to share all this, whilst still keeping my audience awake!