Living our values and ethos in schools
As the late afternoon sun lit up the magnificent western stained glass window of the Pymble Ladies College Chapel, it occurred to me how fortunate we are to have nine Uniting Church schools in the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT, where the Christian message continues to be rehearsed, taught and lived.
My observation and experience as Moderator is that our schools are committed and proactive in imbibing and promoting Uniting Church ethos in the lives of their students and staff. The statement of the ‘Principal object’ of the MLC School is typical: “The object of the school is to provide a high standard of education for girls (regardless of their race, religion or creed) grounded in the ethos and values of the church.”
Ravenswood’s motto: “Always towards better things”, inspires an attitude of never settling for disadvantage or ‘business as usual’. A Mission Australia study recently found that for Australian young women, “Equity and discrimination” is the issue in Australian society about which they are most concerned. We educate young women to know their worth and seek the welfare of others.
The state-of-the-art ‘Positive Education Program’ at Knox Grammar School for boys is testimony to the commitment of the school’s leadership to providing excellent holistic education for its students.
Kinross Wolaroi co-educational school affirms the school’s spiritual character as “uniting, inclusive and all-embracing…striving to foster relationships with God in ways of wisdom, life and faith”. This school caters for regional and rural students at Orange in the Central West of NSW.
The Newington College motto is instructive: “To faith add knowledge”. Given the decline of Christianity in the community as a whole, what our schools are actually doing for many young people is adding faith to knowledge; or at least, integrating the two in a healthy way.
All of these schools, by and large, cater for the wealthier part of our community, and some people question how this fits in with the Uniting Church ethos of the Common Good. The biblical principle applies that more will be expected of those who are in a position of strength. Mindful of their advantageous situation, these schools strive to ‘give back’ to the community through their many and varied ‘service learning’ projects and experiences.
For example, Ravenswood’s meals program to needy people in the community, and the ongoing relationship between PLC and Knox students with the largely Aboriginal student body at the Enngonia Public School. This engagement is facilitated by the Pymble Uniting Church and Rural Chaplain, Pastor Julie Greig.
The two schools I have not yet mentioned are the exceptions to the rule of size and privilege: the Exodus School and Tutorial Centre (part of the Ashfield Mission) and the Margaret Jurd College in Newcastle. Both are comparatively small, and cater for students who otherwise may be missing out on a decent education.
The Margaret Jurd College defines social justice as, “Never settling for disadvantage”, and sets a high standard for what is required of us in a society that does not always look after those at the margins. In these schools, Uniting Church values and ethos are lived out at the sharp end of social challenge.
Jesus mixed and taught across the spectrum of his society. No one was excluded, no child ignored. We can do no better than follow his example.
Rev Dr. Brian Brown, Moderator
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