No, I don’t have enough information or experience to comment on the Church of England even on a general scale. I’ve only been to one. There is an 1800’s stone cathedral on the outskirts of the school campus, about a mile away from the houses, that sits on the edge of a field with cows in it. It is a beautiful church. High stone arches, stone floor, organ, choir, stain glass windows, and possibly a crypt, although I haven’t checked. The first Sunday I was there the student choir really blessed me with their songs. The British love their choirs, and if you have a picture of the quintessential choir boy in your head, many of them fit it like a glove. They don’t have to wear those funny turtlenecks or hold candles, but some of them sing in Westminster and for official Anglican choirs. Their music is polyphonic, which means it has multiple lines of melody being sung overtop one another. They surely practice for hours and hours before each service. Seriously, along with the organ, it packs quite a punch that only belongs to the Church of England. Almost as if each service is a concert performance.
A friend of mine said recently that most of the churches she knows that treat their music like a fine art performance tend to be very nominal. In other words, they make such a big deal of the music and the surface of the service that they often worry about nothing else. I am not saying this is true of the St. Martin’s church in Blandford, but I have been observing the sociology of Christianity over here with a critical eye. Since their church has such an extensive history in addition to the fact that this really is a Christian nation (as opposed to ours), they are so used to Christianity that it can become something they only practice in name. Of course, there is no sense in stereotyping a nation – I have met many Christians over here who truly embody their faith. But I often wonder how effective a fully Christian government that forces religion can be.
Of course, it is not technically forced. In fact, Bryanston gives our students a choice to go to chapel or go to a speech assembly. I am a big fan of this idea, because many students could be turned off when religion is mandatory. Yet at the same time, I ask – if they never step foot inside a church, what are the chances they are going to hear the gospel? And then on the other side I say, but you don’t want to to close their hearts to the gospel by forcing them to sit through something they hate. The answer? God is the one who changes hearts and makes them open to listen, we are simply supposed to engage the world with the truth we have received. The philosophy of how we do this is left up to our logic. So what do I do? Every sunday I invite the 40 13-year-olds in our house to church, and Thursdays to our student fellowship. If they say no thank you, I have to be fine with that.
Anyway, the chaplain is a new chaplain this year, and I love his accent. It’s this rich, deep throated proper accent, and the way he says “spirit” and “chris-tianity” rolls shivers down my back. His sermons have engaged me and his cheery smiling presence (alongside a host of corny jokes) have made him a quick friend for me. He helps us a little with our “Christianity Explored” meeting on thursdays, which is actually connected to the British version of Focus, called Titus Trust. These meetings are for students to come and hear a quick bible study, ask questions of skepticism, and eat some pizza. So far, we have some pretty small meetings, but the speakers have been very engaging. We’ve had some students debate the premise of orignal sin, which was interesting. Essentially, they were saying that they aren’t “bad” people and that they were not disqualified from heaven because of their sin, especially because they rarely do bad things. It’s too bad that God doesn’t see their hearts that way.
Lastly, we had a particle physicist come to school last week and give a lecture on the friendship of faith and science – how saints and scientists actually need one another. It was a fascinating lecture given by Rev. Dr. Polkinghorne (click here) where I actually learned quite a few things about how science and faith coexist. I won’t go into detail, but I also stood up to ask the hardest philosophical problem of evil I know (and still wrestle with). I did this because he had brought up his theory of suffering and evil as the consequence of God giving us the ability to make ourselves in our own world as oppossed to conducting a cosmic puppet show with pre-programmed robots. The answer he gave me was a little controversial, but it gave me much to chew over for the next couple of days. And I love that. I love the fact that education does not end as a student – even as a teacher, I am constantly learning and relearning all of the time.
This is a good job. But is it too good? Stay tuned for my thoughts on the most elite education in the world.