Use Your Vote Wisely

The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham was a keynote speaker at an education conference in Derby Diocese on Monday 16th November. The conference attended by more than 400 people heard Bishop Paul talk about ‘Holding True’ when he said in his introduction: “Our calling too is to hold true to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He went on to talk about how this can be done through and education and schools context.

The full transcript of his address follows.

 

HOLDING TRUE

Derby Diocesan Schools Conference 16-11-15

INTRODUCTION

The story of Daniel, and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, has spoken powerfully to both Jews and Christians living in alien, even hostile, environments down through the centuries. We have had it powerfully retold this morning by Bob Hartman in his own inimitable style. In being asked to deliver this keynote address Alison asked me if I would tie in with your theme of Holding True, which I gladly do. I am also going to stick with the Daniel story as the springboard for the talk. I take Trevor Cooling seriously when he writes “I find that Christian teachers respond extremely well to the Old Testament figure of Daniel, who offers the inspiration of someone living out the theoretical exhortations of 1 Peter (“to think of themselves as ‘aliens and strangers in the world in the world.'”) in practical circumstances.” Although I want to say I think it better to reflect not on Daniel alone but also his three key friends and colleagues Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah also known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

HOLDING TRUE TO GOD

The clearest point about Daniel and his friends in relation to Holding True is their absolute commitment to holding true to Yhwh; not simply to Israel’s God but to the one they believed to be the God of heaven who reveals mysteries 2.28); the God who is Most High ruling the kingdom of men (4.25); the living God enduring forever (6.26).

They would not worship other gods, even though they were confronted with the possibility of torture and death; indeed they all had to confront these. They would not accept syncretism which was always on offer. Notably they lived with their names being changed from those which contained God’s name Dani-el, Hanani-jah, Misha-el and Azari- jah to those which contained the name of a Babylonian deity – Bel – ges hazard Shadr-ach, Mesh-ach and Abed-nego. But they could not bow down to golden images, eat food offered to the idols or cease praying to Yhwh. Some blending into the society; some acceptance of the cultural and societal ways they apparently did not see as in any way a betrayal of God. But there were places that they could not go.

Their loyalty to God notably appears to never have involved attacking the other faiths around them; however dominant those Faith’s might have been, or even how abhorrent some of the practices of those Faith’s might have been to faithful Jews, they apparently did not criticise them. Daniel and his friends core was to hold true to the living God at all times, being as respectful, courteous and helpful to those whose faith was different from theirs as they could possibly be.

Our calling too is to hold true to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are not to move away from being schools rooted and founded in the Christian Faith as taught and understood by the Church of England. Now sometimes when this is said people suggest that this is very broad.

Well in terms of styles of churchmanship the C of E is indeed broad. We have very high Anglo-Catholics, very conservative evangelicals, strong-minded liberals, lively charismatics, gentle centrists and sliding scales of others between them all – some have described it as the most challenging ecumenical project of all. It is also true that on many matters of ethics one can find a very wide range of opinions within the C of E, and not neatly packaged into the various streams I have just highlighted.

However when it comes to the core Christian beliefs of the C of E there is more clarity than many suggest. We hold to the ancient Christian creeds so we believe some very fundamental things about God as Creator and sustainer of all things; about Jesus Christ as crucified, risen, ascended and returning; about the Holy Spirit and indeed about forgiveness, baptism, and the after life. We also have some clear beliefs about the nature of church governance with the threefold ordained order of bishops, priests and deacons. We have clear structures with dioceses and parishes. We also have a clear liturgy. We have a position as the established church of the nation. We also have never claimed to be the sole church; we have always seen ourselves as ‘part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church’ so we believe in working with other churches of all kinds.

So there are many foundational truths of the Christian Faith for which we stand and from which we are not intending to move. There is this a clear Christian framework within which Church of England schools operate and it needs to be clearly understood.

 HOLDING TRUE IN PRAYER

One of the great features of the book of Daniel is the prayer life that emerges. Daniel and his companions join together in prayer seeking God’s wisdom (2.17-23). The most celebrated is when Darius as emperor is persuaded to pass a law that forbids prayer to anyone other than himself for thirty days- oh the extraordinary vanity that can happen to the leaders of nations. Daniel, quietly but blatantly, carries on with his practice of praying to God three times a day on his knees with his windows open looking towards Jerusalem (6.6-10). The life of prayer was foundational to him as a person and to his calling to serve the King.

Prayer needs to be foundational in the life of every church school.

Prayer in Schools

Collective Worship – in our collective worship are we truly helping children and staff to pray or simply ‘saying a prayer’? Do we vary the styles in which prayer is undertaken? Are we helping children learn prayers that may help them for the rest of their lives? Here the obvious ones are the Lord’s Prayer and The Grace but what about The Jesus Prayer, some of the collects and Bible prayers like those in the Psalms and in the letters. Are we helping children and staff discover prayer using all our senses?

Prayer Corners and Chapels. Prayer corners in each classroom are terrific. They can offer a focus and visual stimulus to reflection and prayer. So are they being refreshed and renewed regularly alongside having some consistent images like a cross? Do they show Christianity to be a world faith? Where possible a space as a chapel, however small, it seems to me is a good thing. Ideally in a place where everyone regularly passes by it rather than tucked away somewhere that is nearly impossible to find, like some faith rooms in airports. As for the Prayer Corners what visual images are used here? Are they being renewed? And for both how involved are the children themselves in creating, keeping and renewing these spaces?

Prayer Spaces in Schools is a wonderful development in recent years. Currently in Durham we are working closely with them to encourage more schools, and potentially other places, to develop these. Just last week we had an open morning for people to come and taste them. One of our secondary schools had hugely impressive stuff that they had just done for Remembrance. The young people explaining them were articulate, thoughtful and creative. They lead the way guided by their excellent head of RE. One 7 year old whilst together we were making stuff for which we wanted to thank God out of Playdoh loudly told me ‘This is the best place on the planet.’

Prayer at Staff and Governors meetings. As a church school in which prayer matters it seems right that Staff meetings might include at least a prayer; so too meetings of Governors. Recognition that not everyone, indeed even possibly the majority, are not regular prayers will mean this is done carefully. However we should never apologise for being a Christian based school in which we believe in prayer; so practising it is only a proper part of expressing who we are.

Prayer for Schools

Parish intercessions – does your local parish church regularly pray for the school in its intercessions? It should do so. Liaise with the clergy on feeding information into this.

Parish Prayer Guides – likewise many parishes publish regular prayer guides. Is your school included? Indeed are all local schools included?

Diocesan Prayer Guides – are church schools likewise included in Diocesan Cycles of Prayer.

Prayer Groups – many schools have found enormous value in having a group of parents, grandparents and interested people who meet regularly to pray for the school and it’s needs. If such a group does not exist why not encourage the development of one?

HOLDING TRUE TO VALUES

Early in the Daniel story Daniel and his three friends decide that they will become vegetarian; although that title is of course anachronistic. What they decide to do is not eat the meat on offer from the royal palace because they know it will have been offered to idols, and may well not have had the blood drained from it as required in Jewish law; some of it would simply have been forbidden foods, like pork. So rather than compromise their loyalty to Yahweh they decide to eat only the vegetables and fruit on offer. They do this with carefully reasoned argument to those entrusted with their care. They do not want to land those careers in trouble (1.8-16).

As time rolls by the four become known for their learning and skill in all literature, and their wisdom. This would have meant that they learned the local languages; they read and grasped all kinds of history, science and myth, some of which would have been entirely contrary to their own understanding or background. Nevertheless they were knowledgable and skilled in all areas. They stand out not simply as clever and wise but as they are given responsibility they stand out as trustworthy. So good are they at their jobs that they begin to rise through the ranks. Never deviating from their faith in God, never stopping to hold true to who they are and God’s holy ways they stand out in a pagan world. Indeed Daniel rises to the very top and when there his opponents know they will not catch him out in regard to his integrity. His values are clear and firm and indeed valued by those employing him.

We have a lot of talk now about British Values and you have a requirement to teach them in your schools.

The list below describes the understanding and knowledge expected of pupils as a result of schools promoting fundamental British values.

  • an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process;
  • an appreciation that living under the rule of law protects individual citizens and is essential for their wellbeing and safety;

an understanding that there is a separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and that while some public bodies such as the police and the army can be held to account through Parliament, others such as the courts maintain independence;

  • an understanding that the freedom to choose and hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law;
  • an acceptance that other people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated, and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour; and
  • an understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

It is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own, but nor is it acceptable for schools to promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background.

(Promoting Fundamental British Values DfE Nov 2014)

In short these are to be delivered through Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development and are according to Ofsted in September 2015

According to Ofsted, ‘fundamental British values’ are:

democracy

the rule of law

individual liberty

mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

School Inspection Handbook from September 2015

 Now back in 2009 the National Society launched the Christian Values for Schools website and it has undoubtedly been a significant help to schools exploring these themes. So you own Barlow Church School publishes its values as

The gifts of truthfulness, friendship, trust, peace, courage perseverance, compassion, service, humility, respect and reverence, responsibility, wisdom, hope, creativity, forgiveness, generosity and justice are the values we want our children to leave with.

Our Christian values | Barlow Church of England Primary School

The reality is that these all underlying the British Values produced by the DfE. They offer a grounding and a reason for holding values of tolerance and understanding, of individual liberty, and how the rule of law can be upheld. They also lay the ground for arriving at a democratic view of governance. They are though not British values; they are Christian values, rooted in our Jewish heritage and finding echoes in the teachings of other major faiths. So please as church schools in teaching British Values go further; teach Christian values and show how they give rise to the democracy, liberties and values that we hold dear as a nation. Hold true to Christian values, as Daniel held true to his Jewish values. These led him to do as the prophet Jeremiah had proposed to the Jews in exile ‘seek the welfare of the city’; in an alien land holding true to his God and the values that flowed from the God of creation and salvation he sought the welfare of the city and nation.

 HOLDING TRUE TOGETHER

Whilst it appears that Daniel became separated from his three friends at some point what is clear that standing together was very important for them all in their first years in Babylon, and for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when the going got particularly hot they stood together.

There are times when in leadership we have to act alone; we can feel isolated. Like Daniel in his loneliness at such times we have to find strength from God’s grace and mercy. We come to Jesus as he invites us, ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn form me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11.28-30) There is a loneliness that cannot be avoided in any role where the buck finally stops with you. Hence we all need to find how God’s resilience becomes real for us.

However for most of what we are about having good friends and colleagues is very important. Team leadership is healthier than solitary leadership. Standing together in a school matters, as staff, as Governors, as Governors and staff together. We may have some quite strongly heated debates between each other but having reached a decision about direction holding together and supporting one another is important.

Then holding together with other church schools in a diocese matters. The push towards every academy standing alone, or within a small grouping as a trust, is potentially dangerous for setting church schools, indeed all schools, off against one another. The success of our school at the potential expense of others, and not worrying about that is an inevitable temptation of academisation. This is not to say the process is wrong it is simply to highlight a potential danger of it. So I believe that the value of standing together as Church Schools firmly rooted in our Christian faith and values is important for the good of all the schools in a diocese, and indeed for the life of the church in the diocese. When one school goes through a tough time then another needs to stand alongside and help through that time. Mutual support and encouragement is vital. We must not give in to the thought that helping a weaker school will pull us down. Almost no school is so poor that it has nothing that it might offer positively to another stronger school. Certainly no school is so strong that it has no more to learn; if it thinks that way it will quickly fall. Holding together across the diocese is important.

So too then is holding together as Church of England schools in the nation. We are both in a time of immense opportunity and constant threat. There is immense opportunity because of all the changes that have been taking place. There are opportunities for new schools and new initiatives within schools. Nigel Genders and the national team and National Society are working hard to encourage the seizing of the opportunities. They are opportunities to serve all children and families well. It is a time of threat because those who are antagonistic to church schools are passionately committed to seeing us ended. There are threats from our own failure to rise to the challenge of rising standards. We can best respond to the threats by holding together and demonstrating why church schools are good for all people and communities, and by maintaining the very highest standards of education in a Chrsitian setting.

It is also important that we hold together with Christians teaching, being governors, staff and parents in all the schools that are not church schools. Many choose to serve in such settings. They want to shine as Christ’s light within them. They want to be helped to be like Daniel in their school; known for their knowledge and wisdom; respected for their integrity and publicly known to be followers of Jesus Christ. Our diocese boards need to find ways of offering support and help to such church members alongside the specific responsibility held for church schools.

We need each other in seeking to uphold our church schools as Christian schools with a distinctive ethos that serves people from every walk of life and every community. As Church of England schools we have never simply been about the teaching of children from Christian homes and church going families. We have always been about serving those most in need and serving the whole community in the name of Christ. To be able to really uphold this commitment to education we will need to hold together in this vision.

CONCLUSION

It is time to draw to a close. Thank you for your attention and hopefully I have allowed a few minutes for some questions or responses.

Daniel and his three friends do offer us one model for how we might hold true in the life of our church schools and as individuals seeking to serve Christ in the world of school education.

First we have to hold true to God as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

Second we need prayer to sustain us in holding true.

Third we need to hold to our Christian values.

Fourth we need to hold together, supporting and sustaining one another in the service to which we are called.

This is a time of great challenge but a time of immense opportunity for the Church of England in education. I pray that we may take hold of the opportunity and serve the children of our nation in the very best ways possible by educating in the name of Christ, for the glory of God and the wellbeing of all.