Two talks in the next three days – very similar but at the same time, very different. I look forward to both.
First, later this morning, as soon as I send these notices: school assembly. This act of collective worship is for our whole school family and I will be following the theme given to me, and here I quote: “Good to be me SEAL.”
No, not a reflection on the inner life of a much loved marine mammal – although no doubt, that would be an intriguing exercise. Simply an example of EOWA (Education is Overloaded With Acronyms); this particular one refers to the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning.
I have my talk sorted, on Jesus loving the unlovable Zacchaeus (where would we be without Luke 19?) and then obviously we will be singing “If I were a butterfly” – even though there are no references to seals in this 1974 classic by Brian Howard.
Then on Sunday evening, at another educational institution, I will be preaching at Choral Evensong at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge – where I was an undergraduate many terms ago.
My brief here is to speak on the call of Abraham and we will be singing – or at least, the college choir will be singing – “Civitas sancti tui”, which William Byrd gave us in 1589.
There are some differences of course. It is unlikely I will be passing the port in the school staffroom following the assembly and I will be surprised to be asked by the Master to hand out “worker of the week” certificates to aspiring students following my sermon. But you never know.
But both are wonderful opportunities to speak about God to young and inquiring minds. This has to be a key objective for ministry, to tell the Christian story to the next generation. Our responsibility.
For passing our faith to the next generation is of paramount importance. Not just by our example and lifestyles but also in our conversations and especially through formal teaching. The word tradition comes from the Latin word meaning hand over, to give for safekeeping.
So we read in Deuteronomy 6:6f, the passage which directly follows the Shema, the prayer said morning and evening by every observant Jew: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
For teaching the Christian faith to the next generation is not the same thing as making Christians of the next generation – that is their personal decision. But they need to have the information, to know the stories and to appreciate the values.
For in an age of bewildering complexity and competing ideologies, this is what our young people need. For this reason, because we care, we refuse to retreat into our Christian enclave. There is no neutral ground, no value-free territory.
It was C. S. Lewis who observed: “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
Certainly – and I have written about this before – I gained an invaluable grounding in the Christian faith through my years at St Nicholas’, CE Primary School, Blundellsands, while the college chaplain at Caths, David Sparrow, was a huge influence in my becoming ordained.
Rightly the Church of England continues to invest hugely in education. Bishop James, our previous Bishop, frequently commented on the growth of church schools, something he never thought possible at the outset of his ministry.
For despite being totally against the flow of our contemporary culture, such schools and colleges have thrived – and not just for the reasons invariably advanced by opponents, such as middle class parents and implied selection procedures.
There is fierce hostility to church schools. The stakes are so high you wouldn’t expect anything less.
So for example, the British Humanist Society is petitioning the European Commission that faith schools discriminate too widely on religious grounds, when recruiting staff.
In response, the Association of Christian Teachers contend: “Faith schools are an integral part of the education of this country and it will be important at this time not to water down the ethos and nature of these schools.”
There’s a lot of flak flying around – and not just from the Guardian. Christian teachers and lecturers need our support: not just our prayer but also political cover.
So as we launch into “If I were a butterfly” in a few minutes time, we are celebrating God’s amazing creativity, his commitment and his compassion. I gain my self worth through his loving me as I am, such is his grace. A truth to treasure and pass on to the next generation.