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Education: Take a pew — er, desk

15 February 2019

Hosting a church in a school? Dennis Richards reviews the latest resources

AND now for something completely different. The time has come to recognise as more and more teachers are getting their resources online. You could argue that, in the same way as books have survived the onslaught of the Kindle revolution, the school textbook will survive. I am less sure. So here goes.

The Bible Society has produced some online resources that recognise the “increased focus on sacred texts in the new GCSE specifications” (http://education resources.biblesociety.org.uk). The Bible passages selected provide, in their own words, “excellent supplementary material” for the various examination boards. I looked particularly at the AQA GCSE Religious Studies (8062) Christianity syllabus-resources.

They were excellent on three levels. First, access is easy: my colleagues will tell you that if I can manage it, anybody can. Second, without banging on again about teacher workload, these resources provide teachers with ready-made lessons that will, at best, save the teacher’s sanity, and, at least, give us a good night’s sleep.

Finally, if you want to download them you can do it for free. If you want to purchase a resource, printed out, it costs £3.50: a snip at the price. Compare that with £25 for the “official” AQA recognised textbook.

Then we can consider a book that the students themselves would recommend. Written for older teenagers, After the Fire, by Will Hill, is a riveting read. I would say that 15 is the minimum age, given some of the content. Loosely based on the story of David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the Waco siege, it is an unhappy but essential reminder of the events in Texas on 19 April 1993. Eighty-two members of the sect and four police agents died in an inferno after a two-month stand-off.

In this fictional account, the author captures brilliantly the charisma of “Father John”, the strategic importance of “The Centurions” (his faithful acolytes), and the contempt for “Outsiders”, known as “Servants of the Serpent”. All the names and locations are changed.

Today’s teenage reader will be unaware of the Waco siege. They do need, however, to be made aware that religion can be used for wicked purposes, as well as good. Hill’s story is essentially the interplay between a psychiatrist, a police agent, and some severely damaged children. The only chapter headings are “Before” and “After”: a clever device which keeps the reader in suspense throughout. I cannot recommend this book too highly.

From the ever reliable and prolific publishing arm of Grove Books come two new pamphlets to add to an already impressive portfolio of titles. Church in School, by Judie Horrocks, tackles a subject that I cannot recall seeing before. Subtitled From Separate Buildings to Shared Premises, the author focuses on the diocese of Manchester, which, by 2010, had six churches that worshipped entirely in schools.

I confess that this is wholly new to me. I am familiar with the practice of some Evangelical groups who hire a school building at a commer­cial rent, but this is different: it is the C of E worshipping in its own schools. The guidelines for successful practice can be downloaded from the diocese of Manchester’s website (www.manchester.anglican.org). Most importantly, if it is merely seen as a marriage of convenience, it will falter.

Huw Humphreys’s Towards a Personal Theology of Education, as the title implies, takes us on to more familiar ground. Or so I thought, until I delved a bit deeper. The clue was in Trevor Cooling’s introduc­tion: “Not everyone is going to agree with his theological conclusions.” And there it is, at the very outset: “I come from a Charismatic Evan­gelical background.” If that is your stance, you will love this volume. I suspect others will feel a touch uncomfortable.

The author describes a young child who refused to talk. “Observing him, I felt strongly God’s desire to release his tongue” (author’s italics). And there is more. “The morning I began, the Holy Spirit spoke to me.” The conviction shines through, as does the burning desire to lead a Christian school. The reader must judge whether the approach is appropriate in a taxpayer-funded school.

Time for Reflection, by Steve Younger, is written in a completely different style from Humphreys’s: chalk and cheese, as it were. Younger has acted as a school chaplain in Scottish non-denominational schools for more than 30 years — a fantastic record. Reading this “chatty” practical guide to chaplaincy in schools, I am not in the slightest surprised. He has “read the script”; there is no proselytising for him.

He starts with the premise that the chaplain is there to make the head’s life easier, not harder, and to provide extra personnel when required. How about participation in school trips, for example? Supporting school community events, maybe? Then, when the crisis comes, as it assuredly will, the school knows where to turn for spiritual help. A chaplain made in heaven, you might say.

After the Fire
Will Hill
Usborne Publishing £8.99 (pbk)
Church Times Bookshop £8.09

Church in School (eD37)
Judie Horrocks
Grove Books £3.95
Church Times Bookshop £3.55

Towards a Personal Theology of Education (eD36 )
Huw Humphreys
Grove Books £3.95
Church Times Bookshop £3.55

Time for Reflection
Steve Younger
St Andrew Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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