Character and Service:
Proclaiming and Reclaiming our Anglican Identity
Character and Service: Proclaiming and Reclaiming our Anglican Identity
Over the past five editions of Anglican Messenger I have been unpacking the themes in an article authored by The Revd Dr Daniel Heischman entitled ‘Enhancing our Anglican Identity’. The paper identifies the six defining components of our schools’ Anglican identity: faith, reason, worship, pluralism, character and service. This month, our final in the series, examines two themes…Character and Service.
Dr Heischman writes: “The roles of service and character are inevitably linked in Anglican schools: serving others builds character, while strong moral character issues in service. Both are about relationships, in that our character is bound up with how we treat others and service is about people working with others. Both are about learning, as well. The formation of character in young people comes from learning about the teachings of Jesus Christ, as well as from the values transmitted through other religious traditions and ethical theory. We also learn as a result of our experiences with others, which in turn invite us to grow in our respectful treatment of others. In turn, we learn from our fellow human beings, be it about their situations in life, the needs of the world, or how we react to the experiences that service opportunities bring to us. By their nature, both are aimed to be lifelong endeavours, showing us in the process how we should live.
Anglican schools ground their character formation in the teachings of Jesus. In the many ways we teach and deal with character we are seeking to be more Christ-like in our everyday behaviour. This deep connection to Christ differentiates Anglican schools from other schools that seek to teach and build character; our efforts to build character have a transcendent dimension and foundation, with profound roots in repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. Both call us to go beyond ourselves and be more than simply people existing for ourselves alone.
Character and service are ‘mutual blessings’, in that we both bless others through our service and outreach to the community, while being ourselves blessed by those experiences. Students in Anglican schools, for example, continually speak of the great benefit they have received from their experiences with their service partners. This benefit they deem greater than the good they have done, in their estimation, for others. In that way they discover service to be not about ‘to’ or ‘for’ but ‘with’. It turns out that, for some students, service is a vehicle through which they discover or deepen their faith. We also come to know some of the deep blessing that comes through care for others, and how a school community where good will and equitable treatment abound turn out to be better learning communities. Reciprocity, it turns out, lies at the heart of our understandings of both character and service.
Likewise, character and service are both ‘local’, in that they begin in the surrounding community, be it the geographic locale of the school or the community that exists within the school. Anglicanism has always had a deep attachment to the neighbourhoods where churches find themselves, and Anglican schools have an opportunity to build their relationships with the local community through their commitment to serving it. Similarly, the daily give and take of school life provides an optimum laboratory to discover dimensions of character and to grow in grace, compassion and self-understanding.
By virtue of the inherent collaborative nature of character and service, we begin to see natural links with institutions beyond our own school. There is great opportunity, in service to the community, to forge important connections with other Anglican agencies. Our efforts, through service, to recalibrate the social order are strongly shared by our brother and sister Roman Catholic schools as well as other Christian schools.
Together, service and character are a response to Christ’s call to honour the dignity of every human being and to share more fully in our common humanity. Anglican schools have a unique opportunity through these avenues to encourage a sense of vocation in our students, a vocation based on the everyday tasks of working together that schools so optimally provide, with a focus aimed toward the cultivation of a lifelong love of God through love of others.”
For Anglican schools across Australia, 2019 has been a year for proclaiming and reclaiming the Anglican identity of our schools. How valuable it has been to sit down with colleagues across Australia and identify those characteristics that make our schooling ‘unique’. As we move into 2020, the challenge and opportunity is to continue exploring how we are authentically living out these aspects of ‘being Anglican’. Words are easy…it is in the ‘doing’ that others will measure our success.