Over the course of the last 17 years, since ordination, I have been involved with over 20 schools. My role has involved being a Governor, taking assemblies, lessons, residentials, celebrations, pastoral care for children and adults and supporting families through tragedy.
Most of this has been a complete joy, but on occasions, when expectations are not met, it can be very painful indeed. So you need to be clear on your motivations, and be able to articulate these to the school senior leadership team.
Basically, the clergy role within the school can be just as complex as parish of college life. As you are working alongside everyday people who are trying to do their best, and the school is a microcosm of diversity – each with their own cultures, and each seeking to live out values, offering the best start in life.
Therefore, the gift that clergy can use in the first instance is to listen, and try and discern what might be going on.
Teachers are stressed people who are often overworked and used as political footballs with the targets that they are set.
They are also passionate people who do a fantastic job, so our care and support of our staff is crucial.
The clergy role within the school, however, is also crucial.
Clergy, of course, make up part of the local community, and have an obligation to take the spiritual nurturing of everyone in their charge seriously.
This includes schools and all their children – not just Christians.
As one of my Heads beautifully put it – we are a Christian school, not a school for Christians!
Clergy can also be brilliant sources of local networks and local knowledge. They carry out networking and leg work across their parishes, so are best placed to bring people together in partnership.
This is an important skill, and we must be confident on who we are when approaching our school ministry.
So here are top 10 hints as to how clergy might behave, act and support children’s spiritual development in schools:
- Pray for the life of the school. Pray publically for the Head and the Chair of Governors. Pray in church for the children, and let the school know you are praying. Ask the schools what their prayer requests might be, or put a prayer request box at the school reception.
- In Church schools, see how children’s prayer books or art work might be used in church, so that the church becomes a place of value and a place of belonging.
- Think about starting prayer groups with children, or with parents who may not be able to attend church on Sundays due to work commitments.
- Offer to take classes on specific Christian festivals, or in celebrating the sacraments. Spend an afternoon with the children, learning their names and seeing how creative they might be.
- Allow the school access to the church building for lessons, drama, music or celebrations. As well as services or occasions that the school might be able to tick its boxes for upholding British values.
- Offer to take acts of collective worship in the school, fitting in with their themes or calendars for collective worship, using creative liturgy, film clips and drama. Ask to work with a small group of children in preparation.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and there are some great resources for assemblies. I regularly use the SPCK website, www.assemblies.org.uk. In addition, use the same liturgy at the beginning and the end, with words, pictures of candles each time – as children like routine and regularity. It means that you can be more creative in the middle, as the children feel safe.
- Ask church members to get involved. This might be with visits, reading or extra administration support.
- Get involved in the wider education initiatives, possibly at the Local Authority SACRE or Academy Trust. And if you are a Governor, take it seriously and don’t think that you are different!
- Pray, pray and pray again for the life of the school. The clergy person is a professional in spiritual development and discernment, and, for our church schools to thrive we need clergy to be professional.
Finally, there is one big don’t … unlike in many settings, in a school the clergy person is not in charge.
This is the job of the Head Teacher.
So, make sure that your relationship with the Head is a good one. Chocolate and wine often helps!