The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Thursday, 1st November 2007
“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints” Ephesians 1: 15
Moreover, as in England so in Australia, there is a fresh attempt to reach with Anglican schools those who are poor in this world’s goods and those who are least in touch with the Church.
I visited on Tuesday a brand new school in a poor suburb of Perth. Eventually it will educate 1200 pupils aged from 3 or 4 to seventeen. At this stage in its development it has 150 pupils aged up to 12. Although it is an independent school, as are all church schools in Australia, heavy government subsidy allows fees to be charged that are within the reach of almost all families. Bursaries will if necessary cover the gap. This is only one of a significant number of such developments in Australia, a sign of the hope of the Anglican Church there as it looks towards developing the Christian faith of the next generation of Australians.
Another school I visited, on the Gold Coast in south-east Queensland, All Saints’ Anglican School, has the motto: Truth, Faith and Compassion. The school was preparing to live out its motto on All Saints’ Day during a day of charitable fundraising, committed to a Christian faith active in practice: based on the truth revealed in Jesus Christ, must result in compassion, in genuine care for our brothers and sisters whatever their background, ethnicity or creed.
These schools, and many like them, founded by Anglicans here in England and throughout the world, are nurturing young Christians in their faith and serving the wider community with an education based on Christian belief and gospel values. Such an education is of infinite value in our world, riven by division and hatred, and has the power to transform lives and offer genuine hope for a better future. The very fact of the popularity of such schools with parents who may themselves be quite remote from the church is itself a positive sign. Deep within us all is a longing for God and a love for the things of the spirit.
The compassion of young people and their openness to things of the spirit offers us all a challenge, just as much as their widespread ignorance of the facts on which our Christian faith is based. The second challenges a response by our action, the first a response by our reflection. Neither is easy to face.
Taking the second first it is certainly a fact in Australia and widely so in England too, that many young people grow up knowing nothing of the story of Jesus. Young visitors to a cathedral education centre in Australia quite frequently ask the innocent question, so who was Jesus? It is only through education, not through the family or the parish church, that this ignorance can be addressed. The Church’s call for more effective religious education in schools must be echoed by the Government and by government agencies in practice as well as in theory. And whilst it is only in its own schools that the Church can come close to guaranteeing such sympathetic religious education, the drive for more and better church schools must be taken forward.
The challenge offered older Christians by the instinctive compassion and openness to the spirit of young people is more personal and subtle. It is also right for us to hear it on All Saints’ Day, where the gospel reading, this evening from the Beatitudes as recorded by St Luke, reminds us of Jesus’ call to a life which runs contrary to the prevailing values of our western culture, which honours the poor and the dispossessed and which is prepared to suffer hatred and revulsion.
All Saints’ Day is a time for honouring those who have been exemplary in the past. But it is also a time to re-commit ourselves to follow their example in obedience to the way of Christ. We invoke the help of the saints themselves, that we might share the truths of the gospel with new generations and conduct ourselves in ways that are worthy of the gospel we share.