One of the myths that flies around about the church is that church schools are divisive. Actually, to be precise, the myth is that ‘faith schools’ are divisive and ‘church schools’ get uncritically and illegitimately subsumed into this category. Church schools have a different remit.
This afternoon the General Synod discussed ‘Presence and Engagement’ – a term that describes the Church of England’s whole approach to its ministry and mission. We aim to be present in every community and engaged in and for the good of that community. This means – as we heard in the debate – that we do not walk away from areas of great deprivation and challenge or places where Christians are a tiny minority.
In relation to church schools this means that in Bradford alone we have over 40 church schools that are between 80-100% Muslim. We have committed clergy and lay people serving in parishes which are predominantly (some up to 95%) Muslim. Driven by a theology of God’s generous love for all, they maintain a Christian presence and serve the local people – whoever they are and whatever their need.
In the debate this afternoon we heard stories of creative engagement and stubbornly committed presence. I noted the statement by a Muslim leader in Bradford in which he said something like: “Our problem is that we don’t have a bishop. So, the bishop is our bishop and we need him to bring us all together.” Which illustrates how we bring together not only people from different faiths, but also different members of those other faiths.
It is a serious vocation and a huge responsibility. But, as I said in the debate, this is all dependent on strong and effective leadership at every level. In Bradford, in the short time I have been there, I have been massively impressed by the work and place of the Dean and the Cathedral, the Bishop’s Officer for Church in the World, clergy and lay people for whom I have huge respect.
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