By The Reverend Phil Wales, Distinctive Deacon
As part of my training as an assistant curate I was recently given the opportunity to spend a few days in two church schools. There were a few reasons for doing so. One was to help me find out more about contemporary school life and it was also a way for me to see how Christian living is nurtured in school.
Both visits were uplifting experiences which gave me rich insights into how young people’s voices are heard and how they are helped to grow spiritually. It seems odd now to recall, given how things went, that I was a little apprehensive beforehand. Perhaps it was the distant memory of my own school days being stirred up; a reminder of the mingling of excitement and nervousness which children feel at the start of term or a move to a new school.
Maybe that was why I made certain that I would be thoroughly prepared. I filled a shoulder bag with not one, but two, different children’s versions of the Bible, an illustrated study guide and, just to be sure, some Bible story books. Once there, the headteacher, quite naturally, had some ideas of her own about how my time might be put to good use. And so quite a few of the carefully selected items I had brought stayed inside my rather over-full bag while I talked with, and listened to, the children in their classes. Looking back, perhaps a better way to get ready might have been to reflect a little more on a well-known passage in Mark’s gospel (6.7-13). In it, Jesus sends out his disciples with the instruction to travel lightly, taking only what is essential for the journey ahead.
God frequently calls us out of our comfort zone, to stretch and challenge us. He invites us to experience more of his love of us, and of the world, in ways that we might feel, initially, insufficiently prepared for. But what seems to be important is our willingness to be open to God’s prompting and to trust that God’s intentions are good.
Such experiences, those where we are being nudged to grow spiritually can occur anywhere. Rowan Williams, in his short book, Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life writes about spiritual growth in a way which is refreshingly down to earth and relatable. Spirituality, he observes, is rather a modern word and so too is the idea that spiritual growth only takes place through specialised activities which are disconnected from the business of getting on with living in God’s world. He continues, ‘whenever we are tempted to think that spirituality is something a bit remote… or rather exotic and exciting we ought to just say to ourselves… [it’s]… love, joy, peace, patience…human goodness. The spiritual teachers of the Christian and other traditions repeatedly remind us that spiritual ecstasy is no substitute for ordinary kindness and practical generosity (p.75-76).
It was wonderfully delightful to see, at first hand, this kind of spiritual growth happening among so many children, their teachers and carers.
PS. Yes, my bag was considerably lighter on my second visit.