June 2020 - Rector’s Ramblings

Portrait of Andrew Doye stood in the gardenAs I write, schools are taken up with the question as to whether and, if so, how many students will be returning to the classrooms in the second half of this present term. The government has put out an early aspiration and plea to see a phased return, with a priority for Reception Class and Years 1, 6, 10 and 12: at least that is my best memory of it. We know that the educational goalposts may still move and the true picture of what is achievable and fitting may need some refining before those doors are opened assuredly.

This presents a very difficult situation for school staff and for parents and children. It is difficult to know with confidence what is a wise strategy; and it is difficult to know with confidence what will prove to be an acceptable ‘strategy’ (and here, the word rings rather discordantly) for teaching staff and families alike. These are difficult times.

And, important though these issues are to all of us (directly or indirectly), it is hard to write with any sureness as to how they will play out. Uncertainty has become our common currency, and this is not the time for soothsayers to pretend they know what will happen.

I think it behoves the less obviously affected of us to have a lot of compassion for those caught
up in a situation that makes it so hard to plan ahead.
This is the stuff of conflict down the ages.

I have just watched the film ‘The Darkest Hour’ a biopic of Churchill’s coming to power, in
the context of the 1940 German advances, the threatened catastrophic loss of British troops, and the fanciful plan to evacuate from the beaches of Dunkirk by means of the Little Ships. It wasn’t my favourite film of recent times, but it did movingly portray the anxiety of planning a strategy in the face of siege and threat to life. It showed a nation, and its leader, under great challenge; and it depicted the will-we/won’t-we process of finding a credible way forward. There’s nothing new in the difficulty of responding well in tricky and uncharted times in which lives are at stake.

Schools are, sadly, in the thick of the present debate for government as to how to proceed. I think they have had a rotten time of it: firstly in the imposition of a delayed lockdown; then the change of their very rationale to that of temporary child-carers. They have had to alter their means of working, at short notice, to on-line provision and a more necessary though perilous attempt to ensure parental involvement in their children’s education. And now schools find themselves central to a national response that sets to drive back fear, to secure some reliable scientific statistics, and to allow an economic reboot. It’s a rotten deal; but I want to applaud the efforts that schools in my knowledge have been making to serve the country in flexible and unfamiliar ways. The teaching unions and boards of governors have every right to ask hard questions of the government at this time; notwithstanding, that we know there are no straightforward answers.

There is no doing well, nor doing badly, in absolute terms. What is wonderful is to see so many doing ‘their best’; engaging heart and mind, with a sizeable dose of good will; seeking to serve; seeking to be responsible; seeking to be constructive. I applaud these things, aware that there may be hiccups of non-compliance, shifts of policy and a very mixed response from families and local authorities in the weeks ahead. Well done, though, for all who are trying to serve as they see best.

I think the task of the churches is not unrelated, though possibly falls short of the difficulty and threat facing our schools. Clergy and church councils are making hard choices: as to what they can, and cannot, do at present. Of how to serve well, and wisely, and with compassion and good cheer. There are no right answers. These times are uncharted. We learn new ways, and we get it wrong some of the time. But I take a little comfort from the words of the Bishop of Chichester issued in this last few days: words that are appreciative; permissive; and honouring of the efforts being made.

Bishop Martin writes to his clergy and their parish communities: ‘I wish to emphasise again that there is to be no league table in assessing how you undertake this task of witnessing [to the Gospel in these painful times]. I trust your judgement in deciding whether to use IT and social media, or to use other channels of communication, better suited to rural contexts and older members of the congregations you serve.
What matters most is that your communication is authentic, worthy of the life-giving message it conveys, and sensitively attuned to the capacity of those for whom it is intended. People from across the diocese have told me how much they appreciate the ministry that you continue to exercise.’
These words can be kindly directed to us all at this time. What matters most is that our efforts in this period are authentic, worthy of our shared and common humanity, sensitive, compassionate and directed by fellow feeling within our own limitations, our abilities and the spirit that sustains each one of us.
Well done, I say, in difficult times.

Revd Andrew Doye

Prayer requests can be emailed to rector@westbourneparishchurch.org.uk


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