Knox Grammar School turns 100

Knox Grammar School turns 100

One hundred years ago, Knox Grammar School in Wahroonga, opened its gates to its first 28 students. This year our students are celebrating the School’s Christian heritage recognising the influence the Presbyterian and Uniting Churches have had on Knox.

The centenary celebrations started with a Founders’ Day Chapel Service. During the ceremony led by the chaplaincy team and Rev Stuart Bollom (Director of Mission – Schools), Knox students presented the Benefactors’ Roll and read the Founders commemorative prayer. They discussed the legacy of the chapel windows and the School’s St Giles bible blessed in Edinburgh where John Knox himself presided. Rev. Dr Rosalie Clarke MacLarty reflected on the intersection of faith and education today, and the relevance of Christianity for today’s scholars.

What follows is Rev. Dr Rosalie Clarke MacLarty’s reflection:

Imagine what it was like for our schools’ founders one hundred years ago. The world looked very different; the Great War – which was the war to end all wars – was over; it was the roaring 20s and optimism was high while at the same time our First Nations brothers and sisters were experiencing discriminatory control which would have tragic consequences. Still in the spirit of colonialism, many British immigrants were arriving in Australia including those from Scotland influenced by Presbyterianism.

As suburbs of Sydney developed, it was natural that people of faith wanted to establish schools which would educate and form their children in their faith tradition. Faith was about the transformation of lives, and education was about the transformation of lives – there was a natural and easy match. The Presbyterian faith was an expression of Christianity borne out of the Enlightenment, of new ways of thinking and understanding, and with democratic leadership. Education was about innovation, new knowledge, and responsible citizenship – again an easy match. So, schools like Knox Grammar School were founded with vision and a pioneering spirit. They were founded in the Spirit of Jesus, and with the faithfulness that through Christ as the cornerstone, it was God’s intention to create the pre-requisites for any individual’s prosperous and fulfilled life.

Forward one hundred years to today, and the match between faith and education is not so comfortable. We want to be inclusive – so faithfulness to which religion? We wonder if adhering to a secular worldview counts as faith? What about science and religion? How does the ‘science’ of positive psychology and the mystery of spirituality intersect? Today many different views about education exist. Are we to be curriculum focused or to sit somewhere on the continuum towards individual child-centredness? Are our educational methods to be traditional or cutting edge, academic or technical, political or neutral about the issues of the day?

What is the place of faith in prestigious schools such as Knox now in 2024?

Naturally this is a question that our school chaplaincy team thinks about often. We know that the influence of the church is declining in Australia. Increasingly students arrive at our school with no knowledge or cultural memory of Christianity. So how do we stay faithful to the vision of our founders and faithful to the God they served, while at the same time respond with integrity to today’s Australian context?

Thankfully we are not alone in this quandary. Our entire biblical witness – from our Hebrew origins to the letters to the early churches – are stories of faith-filled, ordinary people looking for and responding to God in their unique circumstances. Our biblical tradition is one long recount of the redemptive experiences of a believing community. We also have the particular charisms of John Knox himself, and – since 1977 – the ethos of the Uniting Church in Australia to lean into. Both Knox and the Uniting Church are innovators while valuing traditions, are at heart non-conformists and people of conviction.

Staying faithful to the vision of our founders is to ask the question where is God in our Uniting Church school community today? Can we discern how God is moving and breathing life into our organisation and the lives we influence? How is God calling us now to respond?

The moment we ask those questions, we humbly quieten our egos, and we put our successes and failures into perspective. We position ourselves in relation to a transcendent being.

The narrative of our founders and benefactors, the narrative that still holds this school is a Christian narrative. This gives us great social capital, as well as access to an active and living God. The Christian narrative teaches us both freedom and responsibility. Through his actions and teachings, Jesus the cornerstone of our faith, set people free and called people into responsible service. We are set free from the obligations of proving our worth – we are all children of God saved by grace; we are set free from the crippling effects of shame – through the offer of forgiveness. We are set free from the fear of death – the promise of eternal life available to all. We are also called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, to care for the marginalised and most vulnerable, and to keep moral commandments so that we can live best in community. This Christian message of both freedom and responsibility is powerful, and it is a powerful message to inform the purpose of our education. We want our children to be free, to be free to actively forge their own paths unencumbered by internal and external limitations, but also to be free from self-centredness and all the woes and challenges that individualism and social inequality brings to the world. We want our young people to be responsible and genuinely community-minded, contributing to the good of all. I argue that our world needs the joint values of freedom and responsibility that Christ offers now more than ever, and I make the bold claim that our Western world has not been able to replace the Christian narrative of freedom and responsibility with any coherent worldview of substance. So perhaps faith and education are not such an uncomfortable alliance today after all?

Our Founders were free men and women and they were responsible men and women contributing to building their community – and we all benefit from their legacies. While we will remember some of them by name today, I also want to honour those whose names we don’t know, those people who were their encouragers, mentors, and teachers. Those people who influenced them to be who they were. And going one step further I want to pay heed to all the men and women of Knox who have contributed positively to this school over a hundred years.

In ending – imagine a congregation sitting here in 2124. What will Sydney and the world be like in one hundred years’ time? How will our children’s children’s children be remembering us?

In faith, I believe the Spirit of Christ will still be active and moving in this place calling us into relationship with God and into a freedom and a responsibility – the consequences of which passes all of our understanding.

And to that I say, thanks be to God. Amen

Knox’s International Women’s Day Assembly

Knox’s International Women’s Day Assembly honoured three generous donations made by women to the school. Ms Florence Armstrong reduced the cost of Ewan House, a property the School bought which now is part of the Knox Preparatory School. Ms Jessie Gillespie gave money to build the School Clinic and Ms Catherine McIlrath donated money to build the School Chapel.

This year it happens that the Prep School, the School Clinic, and the School chaplaincy team are all being led by women. These three women were interviewed by students for the International Women’s Day assembly as a tribute to women’s influence on Knox.

Watch the chapel interview here.

The faithfulness to God of the founders of Knox Grammar School is a blessing. The School’s centenary year will be closed with a chapel service at St John’s Uniting Church, Wahroonga on 8 December 2024 remembering the men and women whose vision and generosity started a legacy of Christian influence.

Visit the Knox Grammar School Centenary celebrations website here.

Rev. Dr Rosalie Clarke MacLarty, Senior Chaplain, Knox Grammar School


3 thoughts on “Knox Grammar School turns 100”

  1. “ We are also called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, to care for the marginalised and most vulnerable, and to keep moral commandments so that we can live best in community.” Very true; thanks Rosalie. Unfortunately, the dark shadow that sits over Knox stands as a perpetual challenge to this call; for years, perhaps decades, the school failed to live by this calling. The changes that have undoubtedly been implemented are good steps …

  2. I am a Teacher by profession and a Christian.
    A Top fan of your church in Papua New Guinea on social media so could you please decide for me to come teach in the grammar school there in Australia?
    Thank you and God bless.

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