Wednesday, August 03, 2011

School Chaplains> Ethics Classes It's all Happening!!

As our societal shifts and changes continue to hurtle the Christian church in Australia towards the status of another 'helping institution' which continues to shrink [according to it's own main game] there are a few consequent challenges which require careful responses, not just 'kneejerk' protest.

1. School Chaplains
In NSW [apart from private schools] it's by and large true that remunerated Chaplains have only become a presence in our schools since the Howard government initiative to offer $20,000 per funded position. Some 'Youth Workers' practiced 'Godly loitering' or other lunchtime connections to build links [others for years helped run ISCH groups or Christian Fellowships] but essentially this is a new thing.
It was a political move around a set of values and a political landscape where conservatives were seeking signs of commitment to Christian values from our pollies.
On the whole, if a Chaplain offers pastoral support, any effort to improve the lot of our school kids is a good thing. When 'some' groups have crossed a line and inevitably seen this as an evangelical opportunity [or a space for more controversial views] you have a conflict. This conflict adds fuel to the fire that is an upcoming High Court action to rule the practice unconstitutional.
Federal Labor has taken the policy position that by and large the project has shown benefits so 'why rock the boat'... this is an interesting part of the mix!!
I wish the charter/rules for Chaplains were more broadly agreed and adhered to... and that if we were serious the roles would be full time... allowing the development of student welfare structures, missional meeting of hurts and hopes by mobilised churches and positive press for real value in those learning communities which represent the last great gathering space of the aussie population.
I for one would grab such a role and certainly encouraged churches with part time Youth Workers to consider $20,000 extra funding and hours that built on their existing efforts through relationship and authentic connections, not sheep stealing!! Alas the idiots always spoil it for the rest!!

2. The NSW State legislation allowing for religious instruction 'should churches wish to take it up' creates a second live issue. The practice here is that if classes or seminars are offered then the alternative open to parents is for their kids to do 'other non productive activity.' The St james Ethics Centre and other partners have developed and trialled and now offer an 'Ethics' course for students and it is being offered at that time.
The church's problem is that many demand the 'right' to teach scripture or believe the very fabric of our society will rupture if it doesn't happen BUT a not necessarily small band of willing volunteers are hamstrung by others with little or no educational skills, again abusing the privilege or at best boring students with poor methods [never could spell pedagogy].
My problem is I would like effective discipleship education to be happening but don't believe in our inalienable right to have it and especially bemoan bad teaching!!
I love the example of an effective Youth Worker whose SRE is so creative and engaging that a neighbouring school have asked them to consider being their 'Ethics' teacher. It so happens the other school has a tight group who handle the SRE there and so this is a non confronting way to be 'present' at both schools and grow connections for what does happen at the local congregation, but through appropriate relationship building not a concerted effort to draw a crowd.

1. I think School Chaplains can be a good thing BUT it must be done authentically and ethically as focused on student pastoral care and engagement in God's mission in the world
2. School SRE should be provided by skilled and resourced volunteers and not poorly by keen amateurs. I also believe God is BIG enough to withstand the withdrawal of a right to teach in favour of a desire to do so... I especially think any content needs an overhaul and people need to understand their goal and the 21st C ways of getting there... e.g. not jug and mug info transfer but contextually relevant storytelling and meaning making...

It's not just about delivering content and 'saving souls' but could be an effective part of any church's engagement if it's backed up by genuine involvement.

When it comes to Chaplains and SRE are we so committed to inclusion of young people in God's mission or are we afraid of who we are without them?

No comments: