The forgotten mission field
Did you know that within the geographic boundaries of this Diocese there are over 1000 public primary and secondary schools as well as 130 non-Catholic or non-Islamic schools? All told, this represents more than 550,000 students between the ages of 5 and 18; probably some 300,000 families, and over 20,000 teachers.
And how many parishes are there in our Diocese? I'm told there are 275. With all the talk that is going on about Connect09, has anyone thought about the connections we already have as Anglicans with this incredible mission field?
Just think about it: in every parish in this Diocese, a significant number of congregational members already have connectivity with schools. Lots of our children and young people are students in them. Thousands of parents rub shoulders with thousands of parents who don't have any connection with an Anglican church.
In many cases the rubbing shoulders happens at sport, at barbecues, at school functions, at P and C meetings or during the before and after school chin-wags in the playground or at the gate. Thousands of our parishioners work as teachers, support staff, leaders and principals in these schools. Another thousand teach SRE on a regular basis in government schools. Five hundred or more serve on the governing boards of Anglican and Christian schools.
But having told you these facts, let me ask you, when was the last time your connectivity with non-Christian students, parents, families, teachers and principals was explicitly recognised within your church? When was the last time you and others like you who have a connection with people in the schools within your parish boundaries were prayed for by your fellow parishioners?
Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are so concerned about schools that they think a revolution is needed. How concerned are we as Christians to see lives transformed for Christ within the schools and colleges of this huge Diocese? It's certainly not going to happen unless every one of our parishes seriously invests in the connections which its members already have with those who are on the inside of the culture and community of our schools.
What are we waiting for?
Here are five suggestions for starters.
First, as a parish, do an audit of the schools and colleges within your parish boundaries? How many of them are there? Who leads them? Who in the parish has a connection with them? Find out about each of them and start praying for them. Think of practical ways the parish can help them " like donating books to their library. Host tours for parents and students at your church site.
Second, call together everyone in the parish who is involved as a student, parent, employee or supplier/contractor to a school or college. Get them to talk about their roles and ministry. Get them praying for and supporting one another. Facilitate networking.
Third, work out how the parish can best support its parents of school-age children. Match the wisdom of the more mature parents with those who are novices in parenting. Do the same with different aged children and young people. Ever thought of helping them to consider what God's calling may be to each of them? Encourage the Christian young people to see teaching as a worthy vocation.
Fourth, equip the teachers in your congregation to think biblically so that they can teach Christianly in whatever subject, grade or type of school they work in. Most of them have never received any theological instruction about a biblical worldview let alone been challenged or supported by their church to practise it. Empower your teachers to shape the future of our nation. If you don't, who else will?
Dr Bryan Cowling is the Executive Director of the Anglican Education Commission.