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School chaplains in the independent sector explain themselves

06 October 2010


From the Revd John Thackray

Sir, — I am sorry to learn from the Revd Peter Sellick’s letter (24 September) that he had a dispiriting and difficult experience as a young boarder in an independent school of Christian foundation. I am, though, somewhat disappointed that he draws from his particular experience over 20 years ago the general con­clusion that it is wrong for children to be in boarding or independent schools.

He wonders how Christian chaplaincy in private schools explains itself. As chairman of the School Chaplains’ Association, whose members minister in both main­tained and independent schools, I can assure him that every chaplain (lay or ordained) whom I know believes that she or he is in her or his school in response to a vocation from God to witness, both personally and institutionally, love for that school and for all who are part of it.

I hope I am wrong in drawing from Mr Sellick’s letter an inference that, because of his own experience, he thinks that children in boarding and independent schools should not be shown God’s love for them. As one who has been chaplain in what arguably are the two oldest Christian schools in the country, I cordially invite him and, indeed, any of the priests and bishops he knows to have had an equally poor experience of Christian schooling to spend a day with me in my school to experience our attempt to live and nurture the Christian faith among young people.

Senior Chaplain
King’s School
Kent ME1 1TE

From the Revd Dr James Saunders

Sir, — The Revd Peter Sellick wonders “how Christian chaplaincy at private schools explains itself”. As one such chaplain, perhaps I can try.

Social segregation concerns me, as it concerns him. I make it my business to mention it often — in wor­ship, the classroom, and conversation. In a school where many (though not all) pupils come from wealthy families, I endeavour to make them fully alive to society’s inequalities. I hope that, if we are turning out the opinion-formers of tomorrow, they will leave us with a real determination to use their privilege for the benefit of others.

Mr Sellick also worries about the damaging impact of boarding on children. Boarding schools have changed enormously for the better over the past 20 years, but, of course, they are imperfect communities.

Like any school — boarding or day, private or state, selective or comprehensive — we deal with the impacts that bullying, family problems, and social and academic pressures have on young people in our care. The privilege of money does not buy immunity from such problems.

Questioning any easy assumption of privilege; supporting those who are excluded and troubled — isn’t that exactly what Christian chap­laincy should be?

Uppingham School
LE15 9QD

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