At Bede’s the word ‘spiritual’ has a broad and inclusive definition and incorporates all facets of the non-tangible aspects of life, as Reverend Tim Buckler explains.
As part of the implementation of this remit (and as part of our promise of a holistic education), our pupils are required to attend a Chapel ‘service’. But why? What’s the logic? How does this ‘fit’? Allow me to try to explain, and in so doing share my vision for School Chapel.
We all have times of loneliness and this reminds us that life is not meant to be a solitary experience. There is something very powerful that can take place when a community gathers together. When entered into with a shared, healthy attitude, community gatherings can experience a very profound, almost mystical element. Chapel is an opportunity for the School community to pause and reflect during a busy week to think about our approach to life and to ask questions about our place in the world. Singing together, listening together, contemplating together, marvelling together, experiencing together, simply being together - it's a very important thing. If I am right and somewhere in the mystery of the question ‘what is the purpose of life?’ lies the word ‘relationship’ we are wise to place an emphasis on community gatherings. Community has always been important but is one of the key things that will become eroded in the technological, social media centered world of the iGen. Where there is limited community experience, there is growing loneliness and isolation. Therefore, we place community gatherings at the heart of school life.
In Chapel, personal faith is not expected, respect is. Part of our promise of a holistic education is an exposure to the language of a faith tradition. It's important to remember that our experience of East Sussex does not reflect the nature, culture and diversity of our complex and incredible world. In addition to the opportunity for global travel that is available for all of us, and enjoyed by most of us, a significant percentage of our pupils will chose to live and work abroad at some stage during their lifetimes. Living abroad may well involve living in Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, South America, North America… this list goes on. These places are very different to East Sussex and it is both important and wise to be prepared. We must resist the temptation of believing that we can and should simply take our experiences of East Sussex (which for many include a non-religious worldview) and duplicate them abroad. For better or for worse, so much of our world is directed, influenced or governed by religion.
The primary – but by no means only – method of exposing the school to the religious worldview that so much of our world is dominated by is the Christian faith, not least because this reflects our British heritage. Whilst I make mention of, and pay respect to, other religious traditions, particularly those represented at the school, and particularly during their important festivals, it is the Christian faith that forms the core and centrality of my teaching and examples.
This exposure not only furthers our collective understanding and appreciation of our religious world, it also provides us with an understanding and awareness of religious language, even if our pupils do not seek to speak it themselves. How concerning it is when we close our fingers around our beliefs and perspectives. All we end up with is a fist of fear, arrogance, superiority and an unwise belief that we possess a monopoly on truth. How wise it is to hold our beliefs and perspectives valuably but with an open hand, allowing the wind of experience and the breath of wisdom to gently blow upon our understanding; to listen without fear, to talk with two ears attentive. Chapel is an opportunity to listen, think, filter and grow in the journey of life and our understanding of others.
Everyone has a worldview; a philosophy of life. As a school, we do not seek to teach, either consciously or by default, a worldview of liberal, secular, individualistic materialism - we don't teach the idea that we should only care about ourselves and the idea that life is simply about maximizing our own happiness. The purpose of chapel is to introduce an opportunity for pupils and staff to be challenged to think about their own values and character and in this way works alongside all that the school does in terms of instilling and embedding values that promote a world-consciousness that results in pupils being active and compassionate global citizens.
One of our priorities at Bede’s School is the well-being of all pupils and staff, as reflected in the breadth of the experiences that we provide. The uniqueness of the chapel experience lies in the regular opportunities it gives for us to draw aside from the busy lives that we all lead. It encourages us to reflect on our worth as individuals and on the choices that we are making. It challenges us to contemplate the bigger picture whilst being mindful of the moment, and to foster in us a resilience that will equip us to meet the challenges of life.
Finally, the Chapel experience is fashioned so that we might all find a moment in our week to contemplate the awe and wonder of human existence and to marvel as we observe the intricate detail contained within the planet we call home in our awe-inspiring universe. It is both the macro as well as the micro which must lead us to pause in the presence of that which is greater than ourselves. This draws us into the ineffable reality of the mystical where words are not necessary – ‘being in the presence of’ will suffice. We are passive in the presence of the transcendent. We discover a noetic quality at the heart of the ineffable.
Chapel takes place once a week for pupils and we meet together in the local village church. As a Chaplaincy team we therefore deliver the same message 5 times, Monday to Friday. We will often sing, always reflect, always listen and we will often be challenged and educated. As a Chaplaincy team we will, more often than not, close the chapel time with a prayer but there is always a clear reminder that this is not something that is forced upon anyone and those who chose to can echo the prayer in the silence of their own heart.
Chapel takes place once a week for pupils and we meet together in the school chapel. We will often sing, always reflect, always listen and we will often be challenged and educated. As a Chaplaincy team we will, more often than not, close the chapel time with a prayer but there is always a clear reminder that this is not something that is forced upon anyone and those who chose to can echo the prayer in the silence of their own heart.