(c) gostudy.co.nzI spent some of this week assisting my friend and colleague, Anne Van Gend of the Anglican Schools Office, in conducting a Special Character review of Rathkeale College, an Anglican boys school near Masterton. Rathkeale is an integrated school, which means that while the Anglican Church owns the grounds and buildings, the teaching staff is paid by the government. The partnership is embodied in an agreement between church and state, the deed of integration, in which both parties agree that the state syllabus will be taught and all required educational standards adhered to while allowing the school to retain a distinctive character of its own; namely, that its life and work will be consistent with the teachings of the Anglican Church. The reviews Anne conducts, by invitation, provide an assessment of how well the school is adhering to this agreement. A report will be written in due course, and I am not going to pre-empt it here, but I will say that I greatly enjoyed being at Rathkeale, and was pretty darned impressed.
There is the sheer beauty of the campus for a start. The school has a stand of native forest and a wetland which the boys are in the process of replanting and restoring. There is a Greek theatre and a ropes course and a jaw droppingly pretty cricket oval. There is a football academy and an impressive history of academic achievement. But from my perspective, what took me by surprise was the easy way staff, board members and students spoke of and tried to live out their faith. There is a rigorously promoted anti-bullying policy. There is a programme of community service and an after hours youth group which attracts scores of students. At an assembly I attended, after all the usual assembly type stuff, the principal ended by praying for a student who had, the day before, taken ill and been hospitalised.
***We walk with the young chaplain through the bushland to the small semi circular stand of Redwoods where he sometimes conducts worship. He's American, so we can forgive his love of these exotics interposed amongst the totara and kahikatea, and the place does feel still and holy. We follow him to the small, rustic, wooden building set amongst the trees which serves as his classroom. The boys are waiting outside and he greets them, shaking their hands as they file one by one inside, using their names and mentioning, as often as not, some small personal snippet. Nice bowling on Saturday. How is your sister now? Are you ready for the history test? The class room is modestly furnished and decorated. He takes the roll by asking each to state the most positive thing that has happened for them in the past week. Then he stands and moves, seamlessly, into a telling of the myth of Theseus in which several of the boys are cast as the dramatis personae; and then, with the whole class engaged, we are suddenly into an animated discussion of what makes me ME? The boys are doing theology and they hardly even know it, engaging with the great questions of consciousness and its relationship to materiality, and realising how complex and deep and how interesting the concepts are. They leave the classroom still animated, still talking of the issues raised. Anne is smiling. She is the originator of the syllabus he is using and, while it is still very much under development, it is thrilling to see it so competently and powerfully taught.
I walked away from the classroom knowing that one of the things I would dearly love to do in retirement is to be involved in the development of this syllabus. A pastoral concern drew me home a day earlier than I had planned, but I flew back South more hopeful about the church than I have felt in a very long time.