Ministry in Anglican Schools: Issues and Principles

While congregations are dwindling, church schools are growing. The proportion of Australians sending their children to schools associated with a Christian denomination has continued to grow for many years. Close to one-third of all students now attend a Christian school. Catholic schools are by far the largest part of this with more than 1,700 schools across Australia. The second largest group is the 147 Anglican schools. In many denominations, however, questions are being asked about why the denomination should sponsor schools, what their aims should be, and what forms of ministry are appropriate in schools where few students are committed to the Christian faith. A new book from Anglican Schools Australia, Ministry in Anglican Schools: Principles and Practicalities, explores some of these issues.

While all dioceses desire that their schools be ‘educational centres of excellence’, there are some differences in the way the dioceses are expressing their vision for their schools in relation to faith. Dioceses must proceed sensitively, Smith says. While recognising the various stakeholders, they should take an inclusive and affirmative stance, and offer relevant assistance in the achievement of the vision through providing trained and capable people, such as chaplains and board members, and in providing resources and directions for religious education.

It is stated in many parts of the book that the principal should be a spiritual leader in the school and the school leadership team should take responsibility for the spiritual ethos of the school. Nevertheless, in practice, much of the responsibility for Christian ministry falls into the hands of the chaplain. Several chapters in the book explore the ministry of the chaplain. In various ways, these chapters draw attention to the complexity of that ministry and the tensions inherent in some of the roles.

Another tension in the role of chaplain is explored in a chapter on the relationship between chaplains and counsellors. The chapter notes that schools often see chaplains and counsellors as interchangeable. Some schools have reduced the hours of chaplaincy when a counsellor was appointed. In other schools, the chaplain is seen as the sole counsellor. Pastoral care takes a variety of forms through teaching in class, preaching in the chapel, yard duty, and leading in sacraments and liturgies.

Religious education is a component of the curriculum in most Anglican schools. Surprisingly, there is little in this book about this component of ministry in schools. One chapter describes the attempt to develop a subject called ‘Christian Development’. The intention was to develop a course which would develop students’ critical thinking skills and challenge them to explore what it means to practise the Christian faith in contemporary Australia (p.294). It involved studies in Biblical theology, Christian mission, Christian apologetics, the history of Christian thought as well as New and Old Testaments. Some units were developed at Moore College, Sydney. It is hoped that such a course will contribute to ‘society-changing and kingdom building transformational renewing of minds’ (p.303).

The ministry of education is one in which young people are transformed for living in and contributing to the world. Every part of the life of the schools contributes to this ministry.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 18-20

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