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The Revd Peter Laurence OAM | Chief Executive Officer

Three years ago, ‘to zoom’ meant either to travel very quickly or to change smoothly from a long camera shot to a close-up or vice versa. You could go days or weeks without zooming.

Today, barely a day goes by when you and I don’t ‘Zoom’. Yes, we need some type of camera to Zoom, but we don’t have to do it quickly. Zoom does allow us to connect quickly and closely with anyone, albeit not in person.

At the end of March, religious studies teachers from Anglican schools across Australia held a one day Zoom Conference, broadcast from a makeshift studio at the Anglican Schools Commission in Mount Claremont. The theme was Connections. The conference explored the theme through three lenses – Connections with God, Connections with Others and Connections with God’s World.

There were almost conference 30 speakers, including three Diocesan Bishops, two CEOs, Chaplains, Directors of Teaching and Learning, Christian leaders from across Australia... and of course many religious educators. One gets a sense of the conference’s relevance through some of the sessions:

  • The inner life of the religious studies teacher
  • Sacramentality and students
  • Connecting students with ‘crazy’ Christian concepts
  • Living a Christ-shaped theology and practice of peace and nonviolence
  • Critical connections in RE: listening to our students’ voices
  • Where in the world is God? – Using creation stories to connect with students in RE
  • Belonging to a community
  • Everything is connected – climate change action
  • Making connections with self, others and God through music
  • Connecting with Anglican agencies in Religious Studies
  • Context and connections in New Testament stories
  • School and church connections

I have written before of the six defining components of our schools’ Anglican identity: faith, reason, worship, inclusion, character and service. While the connections theme connects all six components, religious studies classes in our schools best reflect the ‘reason’ component. Anglican communities – whether churches or schools – thrive when people are learning, where people can bring questions, challenge assumptions, and sharpen their understanding of our tradition.

Anglican schools have a rare opportunity, through substantive academic engagement with the tradition, to offer a particular lens through which many students can discover the fuller dimensions of faith. Bringing academic questions about God to the classroom context can help students to grow closer to God. Through academic disciplines other than formal Religious Studies classes – be it through the human complexities revealed in literature or history, or the sense of wonder cultivated through science – we encourage our students to become deep, expansive thinkers, fostering in them the gifts they possess to contribute to the common good and to glorify God.

Our schools seek to place reason within the larger context of what makes us both human and children of God. We don’t tell students what to think. We expect them to do the hard work of thinking.

At a time when as a nation we need to engage rationally with the many views around religious freedoms and how the on-again-off-again federal legislation will or will not (and should or should not) enshrine protections, the ‘reasonableness’ of faith hopefully will play a central role. An education grounded in faith and reason provides hope for better dialogue and good outcomes, in any life context.

Organised by the ASC’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Penelope Russell, and supported by our fellow Anglican Schools Commissions over east, the Connections Conference was the first collaborative venture of this type to equip and inspire our Anglican religious studies teachers in their vocation. When Anglicans connect and collaborate, great things happen!

Published in Messenger May 2022

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