Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

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WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL
(April, 1982, for the Council of Wesley College)

Links to sequential sections
CLUES
IMPERATIVES
IMPLICATIONS
CHALLENGES
References
Related links

CLUES

Within minutes of commencing the inaugural address of Wesley College in January, 1866, College President James Waugh directed the overflow Wesleyan congregation to "recognize the goodness of that Great Being whom in this undertaking we desire to serve and glorify" and that "in promoting Christian education we are serving Christ."

Now, in our day, in his prayers preceding each Council Meeting, Fred Webber constantly calls the Council to make its deliberations in the service of God and with faith that God’s will for His work through Wesley College may be made known in and through those deliberations.

Furthermore, at the entrance to each major campus and in the opening pages of the widely distributed and well-thumbed Wesley College diary, the school goals proclaim that Wesley is "leavened by Christian principles."

Within this timespan and from the Council’s governance to the simple pleasure of Prep. School children faithfully recording personal details opposite the Goals in the diary, Wesley repeatedly professes to be a Christian school.

What does it mean to be a Christian school?

The theological clues to this question’s implications for Wesley College lie in the first three paragraphs of this paper:-

1.  "the goodness of that Great Being"

The goodness of God, the Creator, and His creation is fundamental.  God’s creation is orderly, richly sustaining and full of wonder.  Humanity is part of that creation and has dominant, but limited, responsibility within it.

2.  "to serve and glorify"

Humanity is the steward of God’s good creation.  It serves and glorifies God by its own creative and compassionate actions.  These conserve and enrich the creation.  Humanity’s limit, however, is that it must never make itself out to be God.

3.  "Christ"

But humanity does give in to the temptation to be 'God'.  When this happens, human relationships within creation and with God become estranged and destructive.  From such discomfort, God saves humanity.  Here lies the nub of the question.

It is uniquely 'Christian' that the way of deliverance is Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ, God acts to save humanity, showing humanity its truest and fullest potential.
4.  "God’s will for His work through Wesley College may be made known in and through those deliberations."

This theme acknowledges the Lordship of God.  It calls the Council, as steward of the rich resources of Wesley College and in delegating execution of its policies, to place itself within limits and to have faith that God will guide and provide for the work of the school.

5.  "leavened by Christian principles"

To leaven is to influence pervasively so as to transform.  In these words, Wesley expresses willingness to be transformed by Christian principles.  Jesus Christ does transform lives.  Acceptance of His teachings and acknowledgement that, in Him, we are given a picture of our true humanity, re-united with its Creator, cause constant re-appraisal and change on our part.

To take such a cutting from the 116 year old religious tree of Wesley College and attempt to give it some potted theological significance is to deal extremely superficially with the school’s Christian tradition and Christian theology generally.  Nonetheless, it can serve to identify some Christian imperatives, as distinct from principles, for the school.

IMPERATIVES

To be a Christian school means :-

1.  Wesley College exists to further God’s work of saving humanity from estranged and destructive relationships and creating harmonious and constructive relationships.

2.  The resources of Wesley College are gifts of God, good and will sustain the college in its work.

3.  The use of Wesley College’s resources is constrained.  They have value only in their service to others, both within and without Wesley.  They, their management and their managers ought never to be worshipped for their own sake.

4.  Faith in Jesus Christ, Who inspires :-

(a)  the vision of what humanity ought to be;
(b)  commitment to His commandment, "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so must you love one another," in full knowledge of its implications;
(c)  the ability to determine the impact on others of decisions about the use of Wesley’s resources;
(d)  the consequent wise and unselfish use of those resources.

5.  The acknowledgement of repeated occasions when the members of the Wesley Family fall short of wise and unselfish use of its resources.  The fact and example of Jesus Christ, however, provide the opportunity for new beginnings and recreative growth.

6.  All these imperatives predominate in all areas of the Wesley Family life.

IMPLICATIONS

At the School

There will be no dispute that the primary function of the school is the comprehensive and liberal education of its pupils.  Its goals express a firm conviction to develop the highest and most idealistic attributes of young people.   Educational decisions ranging from the appointment of staff to the choice of a 'thought for the day' on the Daily Bulletin ought to be governed by a sound knowledge of the goals.

There are few areas of a student’s life at Wesley that cannot be touched by values stemming from Wesley’s Christian imperatives. 

How fundamental it is to a child’s life at school that he or she receive a second chance! How often in formal learning, in school discipline, in games and in personal relationships a student will despair at errors made and yearn for a new beginning.  How liberating the teacher’s role of correction, guidance and re-generation!

Furthermore, in the education of young people, the opportunities to instil a sense of wonder in creation and humanity’s part in it abound.   In these days of conservation and 'quality of life' issues, many of our young people are openly receptive to notions of stewardship of the environment and care for the needs of others.  However, scratch the surface, and very self-interested and destructive prejudices emerge.  This is not to be unexpected.  Indeed it provides the teacher with the very tension most productive for nurturing reasoned and caring attitudes in the growing child.

In our outdoor programs, our scientific and humanities classes, our sports and cultural pursuits senses of wonder and responsibility for the beauty and intricacy of the creation can be readily invoked by the alert and competent teacher.

It is in our Divinity classes and our Christian observances that this wonder and responsibility can be synthesized.  Questions related to right use of creation’s resources, purposes for these uses and consequences of varying uses ought to be explored.  Also, personal faith commitments in response to these questions, starting with the Christian faith commitment, ought to be explored as purposeful human experiences.

Supporting the School

There are numerous groups of adults who believe Wesley College to be of great enough value that they identify themselves with associations which support its work.  Primarily, these are the Old Wesley Collegians Association, two Parents’ Associations, Wesley College Foundation Ltd., two Common Room Associations and, of course, the Council of Wesley College.

Each of these groups has the enhancement of the educational opportunities of the current and future pupils of Wesley College high on its list of priorities.  Each starts from a point of freely serving an enterprise beyond itself.  It is here that the most rigorous application of Wesley’s Christian imperatives may be exercised.

In one way or another, the adults of the Wesley Family either supply, manage or are the resources of the school.   What, then, is our attitude to their use?  Are we mindful of the imperatives italicised above?

The greatest danger to the most fruitful use of these resources is the temptation to make our own interests the purpose of our support.  It may be too easy to be active in the Parents’ Association only when our own children will benefit.  Or, to support Wesley only if it perpetuates a style which we treasured when attending the school but which is singularly inappropriate today.  Perhaps,  it is too easy for teachers to confine their vision of Wesley to the campus on which they serve.

These are but three examples.  The point is that the school’s Christian imperatives call us not to give more worth to the centres of our own interest than to the greater mission of the school. 

Furthermore, in supplying, managing or being the resources of the school we are asked to accept constraints, drawn from Wesley’s Christian foundation and educational priorities, upon their use.  Sometimes these constraints appear as folly but, then, how much do we believe God will sustain our school beyond those constraints?

Offering the School

To this point, this paper has taken a somewhat introverted look at 'us' and what may guide us as we work within Wesley College.  Where is Wesley’s place in society?

In 1866, James Waugh was in little doubt:-  "May our College be like an angel standing in the sun, sending forth streams of light for many a year throughout this land!"  We, it is to be hoped, are in the 117th year of the fulfilment of his wish.

Wesley College is a school of rich resources.  It has myriad people of great calibre and expertise supporting its work, often well into Jesus Christ’s 'second mile'.  Its educational plant is superior.  Its educationalists are hand-picked.  Its pupils come from homes where learning is highly valued.  Its educational philosophy, soundly founded and identifiable, is actively examined, defined, re-examined and re-defined over decades.

None of this wealth must be drawn to ourselves only. 

It only has worth if it is liberally and humbly offered to society.  This is not to advocate the simplistic throwing open of the facilities for 'wider community use'.  It means that if we believe we have things of value to offer, then we should seek sincere and constructive ways to do so regularly.  It behoves us, for example, to 

  • encourage competent staff to take positions in influential professional bodies; 
  • innovate with a view to establishing worthy practices previously untried in schools;
  • allow, freely, inspection of the school by interested parties, accept large numbers of teachers in training and encourage teacher exchanges;
  • train our young people, many of whom will significantly control the lives of numbers of other people and manage valuable physical resources later in their life, in sound moral values;
  • seek, sincerely and creatively, ways to lower significantly the fee barrier to attendance at Wesley College;
  • respond, interestedly and positively, to requests for use of facilities;
  • allow our educational, social and spiritual attitudes to be known abroad;
  • involve ourselves formally in sporting associations other than those of our own kind;
  • make our facilities, staff and students available for worthy educational research projects.

But, and of the most crucial importance, a word about Waugh’s 'angel' :-

In our time of full enrolments, imaginative building programs and undoubted educational vitality it is increasingly tempting to re-phrase Waugh’s image to read "May our College be like God ..." so that it is Wesley we "serve and glorify", not God.  Thus usurped, God becomes the core material of the futurists’ prophesied consumer religion  -  another service that the school offers its clients!  In the meantime, Wesley College unlimited, stepping beyond its fundamental constraint, is all the less inclined to honour its other Christian commitments!

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CHALLENGES

Mr Justice J.T. Ludeke and Emeritus Professor W.G. Walker, speaking to the Third National Conference of the National Council of Independent Schools in 1981, also speak to us :-

Mr Justice Ludeke:
"For the great majority of independent schools, I suggest there will be little dissent from the view that a true education aims at the formation of the human person so that he might walk in the steps of the Lord, while at the same  time learning to contribute to the good of the society of which he is a member and whose responsibilities he will later share.  The recognition of the primacy of the task of contributing to the development of the whole area of man’s relationship and response to God does not diminish the other attributes of the independent school, but it does correctly establish the order of values."

Professor Walker :
"First, the self is not autonomous or independent:  each of us is part and parcel of something greater.  Second, the road to salvation sooner or later requires self sacrifice, the turning of oneself over to that which is greater.  Thus, St Francis prays, "Help me to learn that in giving I may receive; in forgetting myself I may find life eternal.’ .......

"Until this matter of the centrality of religion in both its cognitive and affective dimensions to the curriculum, whether formal, informal or hidden, is clearly enunciated and firmly recognized the crucial question of the objectives to guide the school will remain in limbo."

*****
References:

1.  The Wesleyan Chronicle, 20th January, 1866

2.  Young, N.J.,  Creator, Creation and Faith,  (Collins, London, 1976)

3.  Cross, F.L. (ed),  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church,  (O.U.P., Oxford, 1977)

4.  Good News Bible,  The Bible Societies/Collins/Fontana, London, 1976)

5.  School Governance in the Eighties,  (National Council of Independent Schools, Sydney, 1981)

6.  Bruner, E.,  Our Faith,  (S.C.M. Press, London, 1949)

7.  Johnstone, G.,  (ed),  The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary,  (O.U.P., Melbourne, 1976)

Related links
The Values, Philosophy and Ideology of the Culture of Wesley College
Reverend James S. Waugh
The Importance of All
‘Open Entry’ in its Historical Context - Our Social Mission
John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
Wesley's Heritage
Home, incl. email

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