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Our term ended, with our final Lenten service. It is difficult to know where to ‘pitch’ this as we finished the term this year 2 weeks before Easter Sunday. Our service focussed on the Passion reading from St John, finishing when Jesus was placed in the tomb. We will return to the story at the beginning of the Summer Term. Sadly for many youngsters their only experience of the joy of Easter will be that experienced in school. So over the season our daily prayers have reflected much more on the meaning of lent and explored the themes of repentance and forgiveness. Staff and students have had the opportunity for Adoration as well as the sacrament of Reconciliation. Then in the final week of term at midday the school stopped, each day, for two minutes of silent reflection.
I am sure many of you have caught the news of the demise of Debenhams department store, this followed on from the loss of British Home Stores (BHS), Maplin and Toys are Us. These businesses and many more, did not take advantage of their unique position and ‘wake up’ to the emergence of on line shopping, they did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity. Time passed them by, as did opportunity. They couldn’t see what their real purpose was, consequently this and other factors pushed these well know household names to the wall.
When you lose track of your purpose you end up frustrated, disappointed, and defeated. That same type of danger exists for the church. We should be in the business making disciples for Jesus. We’re in the business of bringing people to their Saviour on Easter Sunday and every other Sunday of the year so that together we might rejoice in our Risen Lord. That’s what God reminds us of through the Apostle Peter as he encourages us to rejoice in our risen Lord because He gives us living hope. We rejoice because He gives us genuine faith. It is for this reason that at school we redouble our efforts over this season.
Lent End of Week 5
As parents, I am sure the experience you have with your children is not that different to the experience we have at school, we are both exposed us to various degrees of reluctance from youngsters. Reluctance to sit and concentrate on revision without a degree of ‘encouragement’ or reluctance to tuck in a school shirt on a warm spring day are, to a certain degree, expected age related responses. What saddens me, however, is when this manifests in a reluctance to celebrate accomplishments, or see oneself as someone with the possibility of achieving the exceptional.
Moses was a reluctant prophet. Deeply aware of the need to confront the brutality of the pharaoh in Egypt, God called out to him: “I have heard the cry of my people and I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out.” But, scripture says, Moses insisted, “Who am I? Send someone else!”
The Moses story makes clear how much time it can take to face the fact that something must be done and that we are expected to do it. Did Moses doubt that God was with him? No. Did he doubt that this liberation of the people was God’s will? No. Moses believed both the voice and the vision. But he shows us something very important for our own lives: Lack of faith in God is one thing, but lack of self-confidence can be just as bad.
To deny the gifts we have been given- thought, insight, wisdom, analysis, understanding -is wrong, because it withholds from our community the very gifts we have been freely given for its good. Having gifts is nothing if we don’t use them and celebrate them.
A kind of pious worthlessness, where we cease to celebrate our achievements and see ourselves as worthy of greatness, can obstruct our ability to fulfil our full potential. And as Moses found out quickly, God does not like the “I am not worthy” argument!
As a school, and a community of children, parents, staff and carers, we need to work together to celebrate both the achievements of those in our care, and the self-confidence it takes to attempt something new and share these accomplishments with others. I am always delighted to write some to parents and carers when students have done well.
The notion of celebration is built into our mission statement recognising the potential young people have. I hope you have had an opportunity to read the latest version of the Oaklands news which celebrates the many and varied achievements and successes of our community.
This week’s message inspired by a colleague.
Lent: End of week 4
Children are often geniuses in putting adults on the spot. Last week I was asked, “sir are your prayers better than mine?” The subtext to this question is this, “ is my prayer life more perfect than that of a child because of my position?”. The answer to this is no, God listens to all our prayers, meets us where we are, irrespective of status, and responds in the way He knows best. That did start to make me think about the ‘’ effectiveness ’’ of my prayer life. Are my prayers as a cycle to school more worthy than the prayers I make during mass or adoration?
I have a confession, my prayer life is not perfect. Has the following ever happened to you? The opportunity is there for you to pray, you set the time aside, go somewhere, find the spot and it starts something like this:
“Dear Lord, I come before you with thanks for this day, and for all the things that you have in store for me today. I thank you for my job, even though it can be a challenge like yesterday on the Isle of Wight when I took the Ofsted call. I thank you for the gift of my family, both the trials and tribulations. I wonder if I should try and get home earlier this evening , they would appreciate me cutting the grass and cleaning up the office OH I’M SUPPOSED TO BE PRAYING!!! umm, sorry God. I also want to pray for my colleagues at work OH NO I FORGOT TO WRITE UP THE LESSON OBSERVASTION. I WONDER IF I CAN STILL DO THIS BEFORE TOMMOROW AS SHE NEEDS IT", and so on…
If you have ever had an experience like that, then you need to know that you are not alone. It happens to many of us. And if you’re like me, you might feel guilty. We all need help in learning how to tame the wandering mind. But consider this, is that wandering mind part of the answer to our prayers. Is God calling me to get home earlier for the benefit of my family or to help a colleague in their professional development. Nothing we do is unseen in the eyes of God, all that we do we can offer up as part of our prayer life.
We can get inspiration from how Jesus taught the disciples how to pray; they were challenged as they saw him modelling prayer as a constant discipline. They knew he got up early to pray in quietness, away from interruptions from his family and from people looking for him. They began to realise prayer was important to Jesus and would be vital to their own walk with God. They would learn that intimate prayer comes out of a heartfelt relationship with God. During the final week of this term, as part of our lent observance, in addition to morning and afternoon prayer, we are going to stop lessons for 2 minutes at 12:00 to encourage students to join in contemplative reflective prayer. I hope that this small initiative will encourage the prayer life of our young people.
Lent: End of week 3
My emotions have been further tested by events over the last few weeks. As a staff community, we have been praying for a member where circumstances are very difficult at present and there are students who have lost close family. We have all seen the newsreel of the Ethiopian air disaster. Then last Thursday evening, the news broke describing the shooting in New Zealand and this morning news of shooting in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
I have listened and spoken to a number of children and staff about their understanding of these events and it is difficult to find answers. Questions and confusion are normal feelings to have in times like these. When the clarity of all that is good becomes clouded, God can be difficult to find. In times of tragedy when we’re overcome with anguish, it’s understandable to feel God has forsaken us. But God doesn’t operate within the limits of our understandings. God doesn’t stop existing just because of disaster or human failings.
So where is God for the left-behind ones or those who bear witness to pain and tragedy? He is present at all times; we just have to retrain our eyes to see Him (Easy to say I know!). He is in medical practitioners at QA, in the emergency services on the ground in Ethiopia. He was in the spirits of the first responders in New Zealand and Utrecht who were on the scene in record-time, saving as many lives as they could and He’s especially there in the hearts of those suffering whether that be an adult or a new born baby. No matter the tragedy, the beauty of God remains, surviving and thriving in the face of adversity.
We cannot stand in the shoes of God and give a complete answer to that question ‘why?’ We don’t have God’s mind. We don’t see with God’s eyes. All that we know now is partial and incomplete. We can’t understand everything because we try and see it from a human perspective. And frankly the families impacted by recent events probably don’t need a big theological exposition right now; any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. What they desperately need now is the very real and comforting presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. Christian communities like ours can help them feel this through prayerful support.
Lent: End of week 2
I think it was last year that as part of my lent offering I attempted to write something for my blog every week. I thought I would attempt to do the same this year.
In school last week we held our Ash Wednesday services. All of our students were given the opportunity to receive ashes. For the self-conscious teenager, walking around school with a ‘daub ’ of ash on your forehead can be a big deal. However, as a watched student leave school I was pleased to see a significant number of students who had not removed this visible sign of our relationship with God. “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Were the words that we heard as the ashes were administered on our foreheads. It seems very obvious command, especially for those of us who have been Catholics all of our lives. Being human means we often get it wrong, so we need to repent. Jesus is God, so we need to believe. The task appears to be so obvious that it almost does not need to be said…but why is that? The answer is that we take the task for granted–we disconnect ourselves from Christ’s real message, a message of embracing unconditional love.
For our Year 11 and 13 this time of year is important period of preparation for exams. Lent provides us with an opportunity to prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Easter. Over this period we are encouraged to do something different and refocus. It is a forty-day opportunity for spiritual renewal. Some of us may give something up or do something extra. All of these practices assist us in getting closer to Christ. However, a deep spiritual renewal also comes from listening to Christ during those holy moments. This is why the message of “repent and believe in the Gospel” becomes even more important at this time.
I hope I can keep this up for the next 6 weeks.
End of Lent Week 1
A very warm welcome to the Spring term. Returning to school after the Christmas break on January 7th was certainly a shock to the system for students and staff alike! I hope that you all had a relaxing and inspiring holiday period. This is traditionally the time of year when we can all look forward to lengthening days, shortening nights and the promise of slightly more warmth, although as I write this I can see the mercury dropping.
For students in Year 11 and Year 13 this term is critical. It is the last full term before the final public examinations so revision is key to success. Year 9 students will be working with staff and their parents to make crucial decisions regarding their GCSE subject choices for next academic year. Year 11 students will also continue to consider their chosen pathways post-16. It is always an absolute pleasure to support and guide students through these critical decisions and, as always, students have demonstrated a mature and thoughtful approach as they embark upon the decisions for the next phase of their educational career. A number of our Year 13 students have already received their university offers. Again this year we have a crop of successful Oxbridge candidates.
My key message to students in the exam years is about the importance of hard work. I believe that success is earned not in a dash to the line but in ‘everyday’ lessons and positive study habits. Our most successful students don’t view May/June as a ‘sprint finish’ but as the natural culmination of lots of high quality learning and consistent effort.
The fundamental truth is that every lesson and revision session counts. Developing and sustaining positive learning habits and being organised is the key to having a (relatively) low stress exam period. For students with the right study habits the outcomes will be predictably positive, whilst for those with poor habits the outcomes can be equally predictably disappointing for them. So, let’s all work together to make sure that ‘every opportunity counts’ and we make the most of learning opportunities presented to students every day.
Have a great start to the Spring term and thanks for your continuing support.