“A reflection on the Anglican Schools Australia Conference 2019”

The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

If you haven’t heard, I have been appointed to the position of School Chaplain at St John’s Grammar Anglican School in Belair beginning January 2020. As part of my preparation, I attended the Anglican Schools Australia (ASA) Conference last weekend in Hobart. The ASA is a network of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia. With more than 150 Member Schools across the nation, ASA provides valuable resources, support and collegiality. Our Primate, The Most Revered Dr Philip Freier attended the whole conference as he has for many years. I was very glad to have met him and found him to be entirely approachable and he brought a great warmth and sense of joy to the conference. In his address, he said that Anglican schools are an important part of the mission of the Church, bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to thousands of students and families who might not learn about Christian faith.

Incidentally, our Archbishop Geoffrey Smith recently hosted a retreat for the heads of our Anglican Schools in South Australia. In his recent pastoral letter to clergy he explained how they had looked at Rowan Williams’ book Being Disciples and reflected together on being Anglican schools. The Archbishop said he was encouraged by their commitment to discipleship and that he found the conversations around being an Anglican school, refreshing. He encouraged us to keep them in prayer, noting that they engage with “far more people than our parishes do and so are very important for our work of mission.

As a recently appointed chaplain I just managed to book for the conference on the day the bookings closed. I knew that Rev’d Tracey Gracey from Pulteney Grammar would be there. I am currently shadowing her for 4 hours a week this term as part of my preparation. In fact, there were several other chaplains and several principals from SA. The theme of the conference was “Awe and Wonder”.

The first speaker was John Zakendorf. John is the only Tasmanian to have climbed Mt Everest but also the only Tasmanian to have climbed all seven of the world’s greatest mountains. He explained that it is in climbing mountains that he notices when God carries him. He notices when he is completely unable to proceed in his own strength. He used mountain climbing as a metaphor for life and for faith. He talked about the awe and wonder of the mountains and how they beckon him to climb them.

John reminded us that we are part of a school community for a season and that we must listen to God. It is God’s plant and God is in control.

The second speaker was Dr Paula Gooder. Paula is the first Lay Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, London – Her talk was titled “Reverent Awe – Tracing Awe and Wonder through the Biblical Tradition”. Paula talked about awe and wonder in the OT compared with in the NT. She said that we interpret the Hebrew word for “awe” to be “fear”. For example, Ps 110.1 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” also means that “The awe of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God was a dangerous God but she balanced this with the angels who as messengers of God, often say “fear not”. We feel fear of God’s other-ness as the Beavers say to the children in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when they ask if Aslan is safe – the beavers say “he’s not a tame lion you know”. God is not controllable, but God is good.

Paula encouraged us to notice when creation stirs awe and wonder in us. Do you remember the first time you saw Uluru for example?

When Canon Jenny suggested that I give a reflection on the conference this evening, I instantly wished I had taken more notes. I recall Paula talking about our relationship with God as an axis much like a cross. The horizontal is us and our relationships with each other. The vertical is our relationship with God which grounds us and holds us. She was talking about how those who recognise awe and wonder are more likely to be kind. I asked her about all those people in the secular world who appear to do such good works but are not Christian. She explained that when we take away our vertical axis we are likely to become completely unbalanced when the relationships in our lives let us down. In talking with Dean Frank about this he showed me a rough-hewn cross which he has in his office. It was made by his father and given to him on his ordination. It comes apart to demonstrate this exact same theory.

Reflecting on the connection between awe and fear in the NT, Dean Frank reminded me that many people were afraid of the miracles that Jesus performed.

Our third speaker was The Rev’d Dan Heischman,Executive Director, National Association of Episcopal Schools, USA. His talk was titled “Articulating what is distinctive about Anglican Schools: A paper on the Anglican Identity Summit and its Aftermath”.

Dan talked about reclaiming and proclaiming our Anglican Identity. School chaplains are assigned to a place and appointed to positions but they BECOME a chaplain in times of crisis or in a moment in chapel when God breaks in and differences are bridged. He urged us to notice and reflect on such times. He urged us to learn to communicate the value of Anglicanism to the outside world.

The fourth speaker was Rufus Black, Vice Chancellor, University of Hobart. This Rhodes Scholar with degrees in law politics, economics, ethics and theology spoke to us about place-based education. He was basically saying that children learn best when their education engages with the world around them. One quote that caught my attention was: “The more colours we can name, the more colours we can see.” This caused me to reflect on the more people we can name, the more people we can see and the more countries we can name, the countries we can see. I resolved to learn the names of more countries.

Fifth was Claire Madden. Claire is a leading voice internationally on Generation Z. Gen Z are those born between 1995 and 2009 and Claire asked us who is shaping their worldview, virtues and character. They are straddling two worlds, on the one hand being their own personal brand manager for the most likes and attention in the virtual world of social media, and their physical world. They are constantly communicating with one another and need to find downtime when they disconnect from being on-line where intimacy is not fulfilled. They need chaplains as mentors. Their challenges are coping with stress, study, mental health, body image, physical health and finances. They want to make a difference – they really want to improve the world. They value family and long for emotional connection. Claire encouraged us to believe in the next generations and in God’s faithfulness which continues.

Claire also introduced us to some of Gen Z’s vocabulary:

Lit – fun or awesome

Tbt – throw back Thursday

NGL – not gunna lie

TEA! – spill the tea – what’s the gossip?

HBU – how ‘bout you?

WUD – what you doing?

ILY – I love you

IRL – in real life

RN – right now

Salty – angry

SMH – shaking my head

POS – parent over shoulder

The sixth speaker was Duncan Armstrong who was the surprise winner of 1988 200m freestyle at the Seoul Olympics. Duncan questioned whether we could each identify a Laurie Lawrence in our lives. Who are we learning from? What is our mission for our school, our church, our family? Who in our lives helps us to be better? He said that a good coach keeps us transparent and accountable. Most of life is just a matter of SHOWING UP and showing enthusiasm. He asked us to consider what our best looks like and what influence we bring to students.

We then had 7 speakers who each spoke for 7 minutes. One of them, Daniel Lowe suggested that we find the heart language of our young people. He reminded us that the prophets knew how to speak when no-one was listening.

I perhaps haven’t captured the thread of awe and wonder which was woven throughout the whole conference. The conference image which frequently beamed across the screens, was of the magnificent Wineglass Bay for example. I think my favourite speaker was Paula Gooder, the Canon Chancellor from St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I had never heard of the link between fear and awe in the Bible. The quote from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe made that link more tangible. “He’s not a tame lion you know.”