Enhancing our Anglican Identity*
In May of 2018, fifty-five school principals, chaplains, bishops, and other representatives of the 160 Anglican schools met in Melbourne for a two-day forum on the identity and mission of Australian Anglican schools. Delegates were charged with the task of helping to clarify and fully articulate what it means to be an Anglican school in Australia today. Mindful of the clear variety of perspectives to be encountered at the forum, delegates nonetheless came seeking common ground in how we describe, experience, and ultimately understand the distinctive culture and ethos of Anglican schools.
Six themes were chosen by the facilitator – The Reverend Dr Daniel Heischman, Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools in the USA – around which conversations took place: faith, reason, worship, inclusion, character and service. While hardly encapsulating all of the constituent parts of Anglican identity, the themes were designed to give structure and comprehensiveness to the discussions, as well as help to set the stage for what it is about Anglican schools that makes them unique.
For Anglican schools, faith is incarnational, invitational, and interactive.
It is grounded in our belief in Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Anglican schools are not ashamed to affirm and follow Christ, as the foundation for all that we are as a school community. Within the context of a school, the truth of the incarnation is not only a doctrine to be affirmed, but an expectation of daily encounter with the living God.
Faith is invitational in Anglican schools. It is something offered to our school community – to students, families, staff – as something worthy of personal exploration, study and conversation. We invite our students to deepen their own Christian convictions or plumb the depths of whatever faith tradition they come from and/or currently profess. In such an invitational context and, stemming from our belief that each person is a child of God, we not only acknowledge that our schools are rich with a diversity of understandings of God, but see that breadth of viewpoints as a real source of strength.
Lastly, faith in Anglican schools is interactive. One’s individual faith is in constant conversation with those of other faiths, or no faith at all. Its interactive character is seen in the interplay between sacraments and personal belief, between symbols and the scriptures, between the daily weaving together of our schools’ ideals and the realities of human community.
Anglican schools have long maintained that the intellect is a gift from God, one of the primary ways we discover what God has created us to be, hence our hallowed and sustained reputation worldwide for being among the best of academic institutions. A thinking mind, in our view, is a way to deepen faith; we are about ‘open engagement with faith using academic rigour’.
We encourage students to be informed, to challenge world views, to develop a mature voice of reason.
Just as a thinking mind does not operate in a vacuum, so we seek to place reason within the larger context of what makes us both human and children of God. While we do not tell students what to think, we expect them to do the hard work of thinking. That task does not work against their current or potential faith but serves to enrich it.
Worship in Anglican schools is an essential part of the rhythm of community life. Gathering, as we do, routinely, a sense of belonging to the school community is fostered and enhanced, underscoring the core values of the school and its commitment to the development of a community as well as the individual. Such gathering plays a critical role at key moments in the life of a school, be those moments about celebration, loss, or in response to events that have taken place throughout the world or nearby in the local community.
Worship is educative in Anglican schools. There students learn about the Christian faith, and in some cases have opportunities to learn about other faiths. Through worship students learn to appreciate something larger and older than themselves, opening them to the possibility of engaging with God on God’s terms, while having the chance to learn of the value of stillness, silence, and reverence in a well-balanced life.
By their nature, Anglican schools are diverse places, and for many years there have been far more non-Anglicans than Anglicans in these schools. However, this is not simply ‘inclusion by accident’: we believe that Anglican schools are welcoming places, enriched by the presence of those who practice other faiths as well as no faith at all. As Anglican schools exist for the good of all segments of society, it is natural and desirable that we see this inclusion as positive and enriching, contributing to the greater good of the school community and bolstering the learning environment of the school.
Inclusion, to Anglican schools, is not the same as relativism. While relativism claims that all viewpoints are equally valuable and equally true, inclusion acknowledges the reality of a variety of viewpoints which may be engaged in respectful discourse. Anglican schools do not give up on the value of truth. In recognising other views, inclusion does not require forsaking one’s own commitment to truth. In fact, it is because Anglican schools confidently embody clarity of purpose and a particular form of truth that others are encouraged, within that context, to pursue the truth.
Character and Service
The roles of service and character are inevitably linked in Anglican schools: serving others builds character, while strong moral character issues in service. Both are about relationships, in that our character is bound up with how we treat others and service is about people working with others. Both are about learning, as well. The formation of character in young people comes from learning about the teachings of Jesus Christ, as well as from the values transmitted through other religious traditions and ethical theory. We also learn as a result of our experiences with others, which invites us to grow in our respectful treatment of others. In turn, we learn from our fellow human beings, be it about their situations in life, the needs of the world, or how we react to the experiences that service opportunities bring to us. By their nature, both are aimed to be lifelong endeavours, showing us in the process how we should live.
Together, service and character are a response to Christ’s call to honour the dignity of every human being and to share more fully in our common humanity. Anglican schools have a unique opportunity through these avenues to encourage a sense of vocation in our students, a vocation based on the everyday tasks of working together that schools so optimally provide.