Worship - Proclaiming and Reclaiming Our Anglican Identity
by The Revd Peter Laurence OAM | CEO | Anglican Schools Commission
Over the past few months, we have been exploring the defining characteristics of being an Anglican school.
Following a forum on the topic in 2018, The Reverend Dr Daniel Heischman, Executive Director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (USA), authored a paper entitled Enhancing our Anglican Identity.
In his paper, Dr Heischman identified the six defining components of our schools’ Anglican identity: faith, reason, worship, pluralism, character and service. In this edition of the Messenger, we consider the dimension of Worship.
Dr Heischman wisely identifies ‘worship’ as the most obvious way to say we are Anglican. He writes: ‘Perhaps the most defining mark of being Anglican is our worship: how we worship, that we worship, and that our beliefs are supremely expressed through worship. That is certainly the case with schools, as worship is a primary, defining mark of what it means to be an Anglican school, where we demonstrate who we are and why we are such a school.’
Everything that takes place in a school should be a learning experience. Our raisin d’être is to teach young people in all ways, that they may grow to be fulfilled and generous adults, equipped to live in and serve the world in which they inhabit . . . ‘Teaching them to observe all things’ (Docentes omnia servare) says Matthew 28:20. Schools are learning places and Dr Heischman rightly sees chapel times in our schools as occasions for learning.
‘Worship is educative in Anglican schools. There students learn about the Christian faith, and in some cases have opportunities to learn about other faiths. Through worship students learn to appreciate something larger and older than themselves, opening them to the possibility of engaging with God on God’s terms, while having the chance to learn of the value of stillness, silence, and reverence in a well-balanced life. They also learn through practice, through repeated ritual, where students take their place alongside teachers and staff, ‘practicing how to gather’, how to grow as a result of the predictability and regularity of a common experience.’
Of course, worship in any context and for any group or community is far more than simply a time of learning. It is a time when God’s people, in all their diversity, come together as a community of faith. It is so for our schools. ‘In essence, worship in Anglican schools is an essential part of the rhythm of community life.
Gathering, as we do, on this routine basis, a sense of belonging to the school community is fostered and enhanced, underscoring the core values of the school and its commitment to the development of a community as well as the individual.
Such gathering plays a critical role at key moments in the life of a school, be those moments about celebration, loss, or in response to events that have taken place far away or nearby in the local community. Because it often stands in contrast to the hectic pace of school life, the very distinctiveness of worship may seem odd or out of place.
However, through worship a school community takes time to experience something different, an occasion where ‘God can break in’, where ‘the old lives into the new’. Here is where the busy nature of school life is put into a larger context and given deeper meaning, where members of the school community can feel connected to God and to each other, thereby enhancing so many of the other dimensions of daily life in school.’
Arguably Anglican diversity is most visible when it comes to worship. We worship in many and different ways… a variety of colours and flavours you might say. Dr Heischman notes that: ‘As with churches, worship in Anglican schools varies greatly, dependent as it is on the distinctive culture, ethos, and theology of each school. In each context, student involvement, the value of students being able to see adults in worship, and the support of the school principal are always crucial.’
While in a parish context, we might assume that those attending the Sunday Eucharist or another liturgical occasion come with a base of Christian faith and understanding of the church, there is no such reality for many (sometimes most) within our school communities. So, Dr Heischman points out: ‘It may seem odd that, within a school community, a group of largely unchurched people are doing church.
This, however, points to a fundamental reality of all Anglican worship – participation often precedes understanding, experiencing worship paves the way to deeper meaning. It also provides for many of those unchurched people an entryway into an appreciation for and possible affinity with religious life.’
As for any parish, worship is central to the life of an Anglican school - the community of young people (and not so young) coming together regularly as the Body of Christ. Dr Heischman concludes this mark of Anglican identity by raising the question: ‘What other type of Anglican institution provides such an ample opportunity for those outside of the tradition?’
In the October edition of the Messenger, we will explore the mark of Pluralism.