The Week That Was

For most of the past week I attended the Anglican Schools conference in Christchurch. This was a gathering of, largely, the principals and chaplains of Anglican schools, but there were a few also rans, such as myself, along to make up the numbers. What with it being a conference attended by the principals of some of the country's better schools and everything, we staying a a much classier hotel than we would have if it had been any other sort of churchy conference, so I was well fed and had a nice room, but that wasn't the good bit about being there.

What made the four hour drive North more than worth it was two things: the conference speakers and the company I kept. The Anglican Schools office is run, in this country, by the extraordinary and wonderful Ali Ballantyne. Despite being shaken out of her Christchurch office and being forced to run things on a patchwork system she has cobbled together in the garage of her home,  she put together a program that was as good as anything I have been to for years. The chief speaker was Lat Blaylock, a Christian Education theorist from the UK with a profound understanding of the spiritual needs of children and a passion for enabling them to talk about the big questions in life. I came away from the conference with the process I will use in this year's Diocesan Synod to help us address issues of commitment and allocation of resources. I came away also with knowledge of an extraordinary resource I will share later: a collection of spiritual poems written by British children.

I knew many of the people at the conference, although, poor dears, some of them had aged so much they didn't recognise me. It is interesting to see someone after a long separation because the progress in that person's life (or the lack of it) will be dramatically apparent; and in the case of the many with whom I had conversations it was quite inspiring to see where the Spirit had led them and what the Spirit was making of them. Many have devoted most of their working lives to the spiritual nurture and education of young people, and they are pretty darned good at it. Without exception they are becoming whole, grounded, self aware people. I met some others as well, for the first time, largely principals of Anglican schools, and again these were very impressive people. In particular, Gillian Simpson, the Principal of St. Margaret's College in Christchurch, spoke at the conference dinner. She spoke simply but powerfully about surviving the earthquake: about the devastation of her school and the loss of life in her school community; and of the faith and practical support from  her Anglican community which has sustained her. I found her address profoundly moving and inspiring.

Before driving home after the conference I went out to Sumner for lunch with an old friend. I had a sandwich in his devastated house, and looked out over the wreckage of his neighbourhood. I'll write of  that later, also.


Anonymous said…
Building children up in faith is of course an essential task of any church or Christian school, but along with knowledge of the Bible and the practices of prayer and worship, I sometimes wonder how schools fare when the rest of the curriculum is explicitly or implicitly atheistic. It would be interesting for Anglicans to see how schools like Bethlehem College in Tauranga or Middleton Grange go about this task.
THis interested me as well: the attempt to introduce some philosophical theology (!) to 8-10 year olds in Australia, using a simplified version of William Lane Craig's material:

Craig is probably the foremost philosophical apologist in the English-speaking world, and it's interesting that people like Richard Dawkins decline to debate him. I've often wondered how his material might he adapted to school use and once asked him if this was anticipated.

Melissa Bell said…
Hi Brian

Actually there is a forum for Special Character schools to come together and share their vision, curriculum and pedagogy. Through the Association of Integrated Schools we have annual meetings where Principals share all of this, as well as discuss the challenges and opportunities of their Special Character.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Melissa - good to hear this. An old acquaintance of mine is the head of Bethlehem College.

annie said…
My children attend a classical Christian school, which does an excellent job of both intellectual excellence and teaching the theological and philosophical underpinnings of our faith. The classical is a return to the medieval mindset and trivium, described in some detail by Dorothy Sayers (of mystery and Inklings fame)in her article "The Lost Tools of Learning." For the past five years I have taught history, which is the backbone of the curriculum, as a volunteer in both my childrens' classes, and the integrated approach of the philosophical ideas, art, music and literature of the area makes the history come ALIVE. It is wonderful to see the children grasp the ideas, memorize the Nicene Creed after learning all this history, and recite the Band of Brothers Speech by Shakespeare will studying Henry V. The curriculm begins in first grade with Ancient Civilizations (Egypt, etc.); then in second grade with Greece and Rome; then third grade Medieval; fourth Early Modern (26-28th centuries) and finally fifth grade Modern. As I taught these children, I went through, though im simple terms, the major philosophical and theological underpinnings of each era, and showed how the art, music and events reflected these. The children understood amazingly well, and Loved it. I think the classical model is tremendously powerful, if applied with common sense and Wisdom.