I was delighted recently to hear that, at one of our churches, a dozen or so teachers and school council members from the local Anglican school attend the one service. They were being well supported and regularly prayed for.
I mention this because at about this time every year, the Archbishop meets with heads of Anglican schools in the Diocese (on Ascension Day), and a week later meets with the chairs of school councils. I believe it is a practice initiated by Archbishop Donald Robinson, and it provides a regular opportunity for me to interact with some of the key leaders of the 38 Anglican schools with which the Sydney Anglican Church is closely related. Seventeen of those schools belong to the Anglican Schools Corporation network, 13 are other diocesan schools and eight are independent Anglican schools. All of the schools have board members elected by Synod or appointed or nominated by the Archbishop.
We are extremely well served by our heads of schools and chairs of school boards/councils. The latter, of course, are volunteers, as are all our school governors. Considerable attention and prayer is given to ensuring that our key school leaders are people of Christian faith. All of the constituting documents of Sydney Anglican schools express their objectives in terms of two goals that can be broadly summarised – to provide a rounded education of the highest calibre and to provide instruction in the Christian faith as taught and practised in the Anglican Church in Sydney.
I like to speak of Anglican schools as “educational spheres of gospel hospitality”. Our enrolment policies are open so that schools welcome children from families of Christian faith, other faiths and no faith. I take it that in our schools, children will not only hear the Christian message in chapel, and engage deeply and thoughtfully with the Scriptures in Christian Ed classes, but that they will also witness the character of the lives of those in the school, especially the faculty and staff, who are followers of Jesus.
I trust that students experience the kind of community that is created by the gospel – as those in key leadership roles including the head, chaplain, teachers and staff lead in a servant-hearted way, and the community is characterised by generosity, welcome, prayer, truth, compassion, grace and hope. Ideally, students also grow in their understanding of the sovereign, gracious providence of God in every sphere of activity and learning, across subject areas and co-curricular activities.
Although schools are not churches and churches are not schools, there is a deep fellowship between our schools, the Synod and the churches. As I meet with heads and those who chair our councils I am deeply aware of and grateful for the unanimity of purpose and desire to see Christ honoured in the life of the school, iand commitment to our diocesan purpose of making disciples.
The Synod appoints up to half the people on many school boards and, a few years ago, the Synod ordinance was amended to ensure that there is a minimum of three heads of school appointed to the Synod. Of course, there have typically been heads of schools elected or appointed to the Synod anyway, and that continues to be the case. Several of our school councils are chaired by senior ministers and I am grateful to them and their churches for making this service a priority. They all devote substantial time to supporting their heads, leading the council and engaging the school community.
I have been greatly encouraged by the ways in which many schools and churches have sought to form partnerships and be of mutual encouragement. I know of school heads who invite the local Anglican clergy to meet with them from time to time, to share information – including opportunities such as youth groups or community service – and to pray for one another.
These kinds of informal and occasional contacts often lead to opportunities that hadn’t been imagined before. Many ministry families send their children to Anglican schools which, among other things, can allow children to remain in the same school even if the family moves location to serve in another parish. I’m often told by school heads how much they appreciate the contribution of ministry families to the life of their school.
Wonderfully, a number of schools offer their buildings for Sunday church meetings, including in growth areas, and several churches host school activities at different times.
Of course, many school faculty and staff, including heads of schools, and governors (including those who chair councils) are members of local Anglican churches. I’m delighted to hear of senior ministers who make a point of checking in with school heads who are part of their church family, even visiting them at their school once a year, and for churches where teachers are regularly prayed for in services. These are simple but powerful ways of expressing care and mutual partnership in gospel ministry.
Cailey and I were both educated in Government schools. In Cailey’s case, a few teachers who ran an ISCF (Inter-School Christian Fellowship) group had a tremendous impact not only on her, but a whole cohort of her peers and others in the school. I am grateful for the freedom to preach the gospel in Anglican schools, but equally grateful for members of our churches who lead and teach in Government schools and bear a faithful witness in a very different and demanding context.
The opportunity for church members to teach SRE in local primary schools is precious. Our volunteer Scripture teachers are unsung heroes of the faith, generously, gently (and courageously!) spending time in preparation and teaching children in Government schools who might otherwise never have the opportunity to hear of Jesus. How I thank God for them!
Can I ask you to join me in thanking God for the opportunity of partnership in the gospel between local churches and Anglican schools. You may like to use this prayer:
who commanded us to love you with all our mind,
look with your gracious favour, we pray,
on our universities, colleges and schools.
Bless all who teach and all who learn;
grant that they may seek and love the truth,
grow in wisdom and knowledge,
and in humility of heart ever look to you,
the source of all wisdom and understanding.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.