EDUCATION: Chaplains are changing

by
11 June 2008

The stereotype of a school chaplain is seriously outdated, John Caperon says. He looks at the new intake

Pointing the way: Susie Mapledurham, chaplain (right in the photo) at St Michael’s High School in Chorley SEAN WILTON

Pointing the way: Susie Mapledurham, chaplain (right in the photo) at St Michael’s High School in Chorley SEAN WILTON

IT IS A truism that young people are the future of the Church. It is also true that the young have been deserting the Church in recent decades. The organisation Christian Research calculates that the two million under-20s attending church in 1985 had declined to a mere 200,000 in 2005.

A further truism: all young people attend school. A real no-brainer follows, then: if the Church is really interested in the future, it needs to take ministry in schools, such as school chaplaincy, much more seriously.

Popular images of school chaplaincy rely on old stereotypes of the chaplain: the doughty Christian soldier from Lindsay Anderson’s anti-public-school film If . . . . ; or the embarrassed, repressed gay from Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On.

Independent schools are where school chaplaincy has traditionally flourished, but these old images need to go. Today, a dynamic mix of new chaplaincy styles is developing in schools across the system where the spiritual needs of the young are recognised and responded to.

IT IS not clear if the Church wholly grasps the significance of this. Since the Dearing report, the institutional emphasis has been, on the establishment of new church-based secondary schools and academies. But ministry to pupils in church secondary schools remains patchy, even haphazard.

In a recent survey of a third of the dioceses, covering about 70 church secondary schools, the commonest kind of chaplaincy provision was part-time. Responses indicated that clergy “visited” or “supported” a school, which leaves one wondering just how high a priority the pastoral needs of the young are.

In contrast, a recent initiative in Western Australia requires state-run secondary schools to ask churches to provide chaplaincy personnel to give pastoral guidance to the young in the light of huge emerging spiritual needs, which the state education system cannot deal with from its own resources.

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A wide range of varied initiatives is emerging in the UK, too. At St James’s, Shirley, in Southampton, Patrick Douglas, a youth worker, delivers twilight parenting classes for his neighbourhood comprehensive.

In Blackburn diocese, there is an established pattern of diocese-funded youth workers based in secondary schools. Chaplains are already in place at four of the ten Anglican comprehensives, and the expectation is that the remaining six will be covered within two years.

Susie Mapledurham is part-time chaplain at St Michael’s C of E High School in Chorley, Lancashire — a popular 11-16 school. She plans and leads school worship, but after that, as she is not regularly timetabled, she can respond to needs as they emerge.

Susie Mapledurham is part-time chaplain at St Michael’s C of E High School in Chorley, Lancashire — a popular 11-16 school. She plans and leads school worship, but after that, as she is not regularly timetabled, she can respond to needs as they emerge.

What is she for, exactly? One pupil said: “Susie isn’t like a teacher: she’s there for us, at our level.” And what does she do? “She’s a listener, a counsellor; she can pull levers for us.”

This focus on availability is echoed in a response from an independent-school pupil who wrote to his school chaplain: “Thank you for always being there for me, even though I didn’t need you.”

WHAT pastoral needs do chaplains respond to? The Revd Rachael Knapp, newly appointed chaplain at the Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, a high-achieving church comprehensive

in Kent, offers a similar list to Ms Mapledurham’s: dealing with death, bereavement or terminal illness; management of friendships; relationships; bullying; self-harm; questions of identity; stress and exams; living with parents and increasingly complex family set-ups; how to cope with developing sexuality — all common issues for secondary pupils across the country.

But chaplaincy is not just for the pupil cohort: adults have pastoral needs, too. “This whole school community is my parish,” says Ms Knapp. “And my job is about relationships — you are never out of contact with others.”

As well as the importance of making and maintaining relationships, there is always the concern to make faith accessible. Chris Bagguley, head at St Michael’s, says: “We are here to accompany our pupils on their spiritual journey; to help them make sense of life.” The importance of this pastoral vision — the Emmaus image of journeying alongside people — is made clear in the priority he gives to his weekly meeting with his youth-worker chaplain.

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The days of the stereotypical male, ordained school chaplain are over. Patterns of chaplaincy are legion: there are youth workers, Church Army officers, lay chaplains, and outreach workers based in school.

Where parishes have creative relationships with their local schools, informal chaplaincies are emerging, as clergy and lay people offer pastoral support, especially in times of crisis. And in multifaith contexts, new kinds of provision are emerging as the spiritual needs of young people of all faith communities are recognised.

Eton College, possibly our best-known independent school, now employs Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu tutors, in addition to its Anglican and RC chaplains. Could this be a model for the maintained sector?

New life in school chaplaincy is emerging. It should be a strategic priority for the Church, as young people are shaped in secondary schools, and need the support of Christian ministry at the most formative stage in their lives.

There can be few challenges more rewarding for a priest or lay person than working day by day alongside the young in a school, helping to bring faith to bear on their developing understanding of life.

The Revd John Caperon, a former secondary head, is now Director of the Bloxham Project, which works in support of school chaplaincy nationwide. The Bloxham Project is about to undertake a national programme of research into the nature, extent, and effectiveness of school chaplaincy provision.

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