As we all are aware, every word from John Perkins’ mouth is sincere – whether on this occasion they are true, or not, I will leave others to decide. It has been a privilege, and at most times a pleasure, to work with John and other members of the Humanities Faculty over the past fifteen years.
It has been most satisfying to be a part of the development of a Religious Studies Department that, fifteen years ago, was somewhat of a Cinderella set-up. I doubt whether anyone today would similarly describe it as such (there are no “ugly sisters”, probably no “Prince Charming”, perhaps a pre-occupation with shoes, but we have had a bit of a ball).
For the previous fifteen Summer-term holidays and end-of-year lunches, I have sat in this centre and wondered what it would be like to have to respond to a farewell from the school. Now I know!
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a colleague, during which she asked me if I had, already prepared my leaving speech. I answered in the negative. The colleague then proffered me the advice to “keep it light” (note: she did not say “keep it short”). Obviously, this colleague has a keen awareness of character.
I am not too sure Ruth if I can easily “do light”, but I do trust that what follows will not be too “heavy”!
Those of you who know something about me, other than what you have seen and experienced at school, will know that I have had the required three careers:
I began my working life as a servant of the Australian Federal Government – working with telecommunications (I believe I am on the records of ASIO – the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation).
My middle working life saw me being a servant of the Christian Church. I was an ordained Minister of Religion – a priest, a vicar, a clergyman, pastor, a “reverend person”.
In 1996 I started my third career as a servant of the British Government’s Ministry of Education, as a teacher at Campion School. The very day I started this third professional phase, I “defrocked” myself, dropped the “Rev.” and became a plain and simple “doctor”. As such I have been known to successive staff and students of this school – except maybe Alan Hackett who, occasionally, calls me “Rev” or “Father”. The temptation has been to reply, “Yes, my son?” Our traditions, if not our ages, hold a strong influence over us.
I have sometimes been asked if “I have ever missed the Church?”
Now, I might have missed the Class A social status of being a vicar, the opportunity to harangue a silent congregation for twenty minutes on a Sunday, and to have every Monday away from the office. However, I have never missed the subsistence level salary, the guilt of perhaps misrepresenting the Christian Deity with what I said from time to time, or the need to always vicariously strive to please those whom I was meant to be serving.
But, the answer to the question “have I missed the Church?” is an emphatic “No!” Why would I miss the Church when I have had a church right here at Campion?
The largest ever single church congregation over which I exercised a leadership function was in the Central Baptist Church in the City of Adelaide. It was 200-300 strong. But…I have taught around that number of students every year at Campion and, if desired, I could harangue them every lesson! At this school, in this church, we have a total staff and student membership of around 1600, which is large enough to not even begin to feel guilty about not having pleased everyone.
There have been special moments which have brought together my previous and present roles. Sharing the lives of staff and students is much the same in every walk of life – even if the counsel or solutions are seen to be different. A couple of examples may be illustrative.
Several years ago, I received an award from a Year 11 Tutor Group. They called it the “Teacher-Preacher Award”. Apart from showing the wisdom and taste that can sometimes shine through with a Year 11 group, it also possibly indicated to me that “You can take the boy out of the Church, but not the church out of the boy”.
Following last year’s Creativity Week here at Campion, I received a letter from a Year 7 student in which he commented on one of my lessons. He considered it to be the best of the week for him. He felt that the lesson was fun; had taught him many things about the Olympic Games, with videos, pencil drawings and the laminating of pictures – clearly good teaching methods!
He finished his letter with the words “Good day mate, thank you for your lesson.” Apparently, I have had a least one successful lesson in sixteen years!
As I leave this school and the RS Department I feel sure that the Christian God did not take offence if, every now and again, I have mentioned Mohammad, Guru Nanak, the Buddha or Abraham, instead of just focusing on Jesus; or, perhaps, not having spoken about any of these at all, just concentrated on the philosophy, ethics and practicalities of preparing the lives of young people to live in the contemporary world. Teaching these things today in a secular school should not be that different to raising contemporary issues of faith and religious awareness.
So too, as I leave the teaching profession it is comforting to realise that the Teachers’ Pension will certainly be more adequate than the pension of a superannuated “servant of the sacred”.
Let me press the analogy between a school and the Church (with thanks to Isobel for her counsel, with apologies for possibly misusing the C of E as a reference point). Like the Church, Campion has a Synod (the Governing Body) with a Bishop in charge who is responsible to the Synod and to the people of the Diocese. We have our own Bishop, “Bishop Bob”.
Those who are familiar with the BBC sitcom “Rev” will be aware of the nature and importance of the Archdeacon – he, or she, who scurries around the Diocese, making sure that the diocesan clergy are following the Synod’s policies and the Bishop’s directives. At Campion we refer to such figures collectively as the Senior Leadership Team (the SLT) or the Assistant Head Teachers
In between the Bishop and the Archdeacons, we have a Suffragan Bishop, the Bishop’s right-hand person – you see, Louise, I have not forgotten you! I could not forget this position for a number of reasons, including the fact that when I worked professionally in the Church I actually ascended to the heady heights of the equivalent position you occupy in this school as the Deputy Head-teacher.
When I lived and worked in Melbourne, I was for several years in an appointment known as the Regional Minister for Inner City Baptist Association of Churches (ICBA). As such, I was referred to as the “Baptist Bishop for the Inner City (BICBA)”. Belonging to the Free Church Baptist Tradition I never got to wear the episcopal purple and white collar. The only collar I wore was white and grey – and only one shade of grey at that!
During the period of being the “Baptist Bishop” I had a professional link with the Anglican Suffragan Bishop of Melbourne, Peter Hollingsworth. Around the time I came to England to be WVUK’s Manager for Domestic Programmes (1991), Peter was becoming the Bishop of Brisbane (a high-ranking bishopric in Australia). Around the time I was starting as Head of RS at Campion (1996), Peter Hollingsworth was on the way to becoming the Governor General of Australia – the Queen’s representative down under and second only in public importance to the Prime Minister.
I never found out if Peter Hollingsworth ever envied me!
To continue with our analogy, we next come to the fire-fighters, the healers, the coal face workers, those whose major task it is to work selflessly, tirelessly, if not effortlessly in the school, as a Teacher, a Teaching Assistant or an Administrator. These are the Priests-in-Charge, the Vicars, Parsons and Parish Workers. This is not to suggest that the other officers I have mentioned do not take part in the teaching function. It is, of course, a matter of time and degree.
The place of teaching in a school is paramount, for it is in the classroom that we primarily exercise the role for which we have trained. As a Minister of Religion undertakes the discipline of academic and professional training to serve a church congregation as a leader, teacher, pastor and an administrator, so a teacher does the same in order to be able to serve students and colleagues.
As a look around this gathering (congregation?) today I see people who are carers, pastors, teachers and role models, leaders by word and deed. I see trainers and administrators. I see colleagues who will continue to give to Campion its respected place in the community of Northampton schools.
With every beginning Year 7 class I have been given at Campion, I have shared something of the background as to why I came into teaching. I do not go into a long-winded explanation or an analogy similar to what I have shared this afternoon. I simply share with the students the words on a small picture that hangs in the ground floor “loo” of my home, a picture that shows a small boy, hands in his back pockets, looking over a lake. Underneath the picture are the following words that face me at the relevant moments of awareness and contemplation:
“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… What will matter is that the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
Give or take a few changed words, therein lies the reason I first went into the ministry of the Christian Church, undertaking youth ministry, Christian education, urban ministry and then into a late career as a schoolteacher. My professional involvement with both has, with today, come to an end. I count myself fortunate in having been what I have been; having done what I have done and for being with those with whom I have done it.
So too, and finally, I thank you for being part of my journey for these past sixteen years. It has sometimes seemed like a “road less travelled”, but, by every measurement, it is one that has been worthwhile, and I further commend it to you.
In the words of the only non-English language I have ever spoken publicly (Welsh):
I am a retired secondary school teacher of Humanities, having spent a major portion of my working life as a Minister of Religion with the Baptist denomination. I would now describe myself as a secular humanist and a socialist. I am married to Vicky and we have three children - two sons and a married daughter - all of whom are in their thirties. Formerly of Melbourne, Australia, we are all now living in England. My academic studies have been undertaken in Australia, the UK and the USA. I have a doctorate in religious studies from the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
In retirement I enjoy reading, listening to classical music and writing. I am a member of Republic, Sea of Faith, Dignity in Dying Campaign and the National Secular Society. As well, I have a subscription to a number of cultural and political associations, including Amnesty International and, as a committed European, The Federal Trust.