Tag Archives: education

3 November: A place to reflect

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I was surprised to be welcomed at the North Door into the Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral and to have a leaflet thrust into my hand. I barely glanced at it – ‘a place to reflect’ sums up Agnellus’ Mirror’s feelings about this ancient part of the Cathedral – and put it safely in my bag. Reflection is our business in the Mirror, so I promised myself to read it later.

As always, the silence of the Crypt needed to be filtered out of the background noises. Hear each one, Will, then set it aside. Bangings, sawing noises, crane engines and hydraulic lifts: the army of masons, paviours and other tradesmen were about their work, as they always are. Have  I ever seen the building without scaffolding somewhere?

Young voices behind me, coming from the nave. School children? Do they whoop and yell? I remembered that at least two little Turnstone chicks, when babes in arms, discovered the acoustics of the nave, and allowed their happy screams to roll around the space, but they were a choir leader’s nightmare. Worth a smile and a prayer for all the younger Turnstones. At least I’d put aside the whoopers, and found silence, undisturbed by comings and goings around me.

When I got up to climb the stairs to the nave, a solid oak door barred the way. I heard an amplified voice speaking, and remembered seeing a young man in academic dress in the street: I realised it must have been a degree ceremony occupying the nave. Whoops and yells are fair enough under the circumstances.

Let’s pray that the graduands enjoyed their day, and always have room in their lives for reflection and silence.

Oh, the leaflet: it is an excellent guide to the crypt. I learnt that there is a Baptismal Font down there in the Holy Innocents’ Chapel which is encouraging: the main font in the Nave has the Royal Coat of Arms over it, which has always seemed inappropriate to me.

 

 

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October 30, Month of Mission: A green school in India

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More news from USPG, supporting the Global Anglican Church.

A Church of South India school has won a national prize for its work on the environment. CMS school in Vechoochira, Kerala has 430 students. They beat thousands of other schools to win the prize, which was organised by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

The school has been championing the Green School Programme in a variety of ways since 2014. Students avoid using plastic bottles or throwaway plastic. They use pens made from waste paper. Each pen has a seed embedded in it. When the ink runs out the pupils ‘plant’ the pen so that a seedling will germinate.

The school is also active in the community, encouraging waste management and recycling. And it owns a biodiversity park and has a kitchen garden to grow its own vegetables.

 Joined up thinking which should cause us to ponder. The school has a mission, well-understood, to educate the children in care for creation. But the children also have to live out that mission in their school and family lives. Watching a seed grow is a response to ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ (Matthew 6:28) which was an invitation to all who have ears to hear. In our day that command takes on the second meaning of ‘show some consideration for the lilies of the field’. Laudato Si!

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October 24, Month of Mission: walking and working together.

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Lawrence Tukamushaba, M.Afr writes from  Kasama, Zambia, about youth work in Saint Anne’s parish. To read his post click here. After describing some of the successes of this ministry in a large parish with many communities, he touches on some challenges.

Family breakdown

A good number of our young people are raised by single parents; others have been orphaned at a young age and were brought up by their grandparents. Some have never met their fathers. Dealing with such young people needs spending time to listen to them and counselling them. Peer counselling is a skill that is needed.

The widening gap between Urban and Rural Youth

There is a growing gap between young people coming from urban and rural setups. In some areas, children have to walk 10 km on foot to reach the nearest primary school. In the rainy season, roads get really bad and some bridges are washed away. Added to that, the grass grows tall so that it becomes risky to walk in the bush and on top of all that some villages are widely scattered. In such areas it is difficult to find someone who has finished secondary school. This poses a challenge of leadership in the Church. It also increases a vicious circle of poverty.

Youth In the year 2017, I baptized 17 adults among whom were 8 school girls aged between 14 and 18 years of age who had dropped out of school. Later I discussed with their parents and church council how to ensure they go back to school. We must be interested in the formal education of our Christians if our ministry is to be transformative.

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October 23. Month of Mission: Thoughts from my cell.

Another example of Mission is the Irish Chaplaincy. Here Eddie shares some thoughts on the prison ministry side of that work. Enough to read his article to know how important it is.

I awoke in my cell having had an interesting dream in which I was in a kind of social club with my guitar (the one mentioned in the last blog) playing ‘Country roads’ with lots of people singing along.

                 

It’s one of the songs I’d sung at a prison event a couple of days before, after one of the guys said he liked American country songs and sang a couple himself. He had a really good voice and wasn’t at all shy. None of the others, though, seemed too interested in singing and were happy to sit and chat with one another and with those of us from the Irish Chaplaincy, away from their cells for a blessed couple of hours.

I should explain that the cell I was in was at a monastery where I go regularly to spend 24 hours in silence, and I was particularly curious on that occasion why the monastic tradition gives the same name to the room of the monk as that used in prisons for the place of confinement. It was an interesting link to our Traveller event at Wormwood Scrubs, so too the dream.

Our event at Scrubs was surprisingly relaxed, especially considering that it was one of the hottest days of the year, when the tiny, airless cells must be like infernos. We were in the multi-faith room, with doors wide open (exceptionally) and fans whirring, and the space was laid out café style, with tables and easy chairs. There was a lot of pleasant conversation, a little bit of singing (not too much, and that was fine). And then there was the food: a feast of bacon and cabbage and potatoes, with lots left over for the guys to take back to their mates who hadn’t been able to attend (or to eat again themselves in their cells!). And after the meal there was chocolate and other treats that Breda and Ellena had brought. Several of the prisons staff came along, for they also enjoy and value our events, and it’s probably a bit of light relief for them too from the major challenges in running a prison today. Sarah the governor was there, with several of her senior staff, plus Zahid the head of Chaplaincy and Fr. Chima the RC chaplain. They’re all good people doing a good job, and I was a little sad to read in the news the following day that Wormwood Scrubs is on a list of 16 prisons judged by the MOJ to be of ‘serious concern’ (the Irish Chaplaincy has a presence in a few of those on the list). Years of under-investment and over-crowding have taken their toll; and when availability to drugs is thrown into the mix and prisoners locked in their cells for large parts of the day then there are some very dangerous and volatile situations created.

Following the food there was a group photo outside with everybody in great spirits, and then there was time to help people with a questionnaire about our ‘Travelling Forward Resettlement Project’. I was struck that in answer to the question about previous education most of the guys ticked ‘1’ (the lowest score), whilst for the questions about interest in training and in being helped to get a post-release job most ticked ‘5’ (the highest). And the majority of the guys needed somebody to write down the answers for them.

I don’t know what these men have done to end up in prison, and I don’t need to know. I simply enjoy the time with them; to share a meal together and a bit of craic. And they’re so appreciative of these events. For Travellers (people who are used to moving around and being out of doors) being confined to a small cell for prolonged periods must be a particular hardship.

As time was called on the gathering (the two hours having flown by) there were multiple handshakes and ‘thank you’ was said repeatedly. And then it was back to the cell. In my monastic cell, from which I could hear the gentle sound of rain through the open window and look out at the woods surrounding the monastery (and from which I could leave whenever I wished), I thought of those guys.

Eddie Gilmore

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12 October, Month of Mission: A worthless servant in Algeria.

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Another visit to Algeria and a taste of a prophetic mission.

My name is Vincent Somboro. I am a Malian, a dogon from the Diocese of Mopti, right in the centre of West Africa, and I am preparing to be a Missionary of Africa. After studying Philosophy for 3 years in Burkina Faso, then completing my novitiate year in Zambia, I was appointed to a community of Missionaries of Africa in Ghardaia, Algeria, for a two year lived-experience of Mission. I have been here for one year now. Algeria is a Muslim country and religion is absolutely central to its daily life. I count myself very lucky to be working amongst a people for whom God and religion are still so important. As Christians here, our life is one of discreet dialogue. It can happen that I talk with certain people about religion, but this would only be with people who want to convert me to Islam. I build my life as a Christian on Our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me!” and still I remain “a worthless servant who is only doing his duty.”

I live this life in different places. In a library; in a centre for handicapped children; in meeting migrants and anyone else the Lord puts in my path. In the library: as well as being the librarian in charge of books, I give extra help to both children and adults who are learning English or French. It is really the only place where I can meet Algerians: coming into contact with Algerian society in a more informal way.

Once a week I play sports with the children in a centre for the handicapped. This simple interaction, being with the children, with no agenda other than being there with them, brings me great pleasure.

Being a Malian, an African, is also a great advantage when it comes to contact with migrants. Meeting migrants affords me a marvellous opportunity to serve my African brothers and sisters. This is a challenge which preoccupies me greatly, and it is doubly useful: in the context of Algeria, I am able to be both a missionary and a prophet.

I am a missionary because the migrants really feel at home when they come to our house. A confrere and I, between us, speak Moore, Hausa and Bambara. This covers most of West Africa. As fellow Africans, we are living the same reality in Algeria as they are.

I am a prophet because, as an African, I yearn for our home countries to come up with structures to help our young people, helping them struggle against famine and war, and against the desire driving our youth to get to Europe no matter the cost. I feel troubled and challenged when I see young people crossing deserts to get to Algeria, hoping to cross the seas to Italy and Spain. I see the religious and cultural divides, the injustice and the racism that they encounter. I thank God for my experience here.

Vincent Somboro.

From the White Fathers Magazine, February 2017.

Taizé celebration in Tlemcen

https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

 

 

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8 September: Mary’s ‘Birthday’ and Education Sunday.

 

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

Of course we have no idea what date Mary’s birthday should be celebrated, she probably didn’t know herself. It was celebrated on this day in the VIth Century as an important stage in Salvation History; nobody is obliged to hold this feast, but we should always be thankful that Mary said ‘Yes’ to God, not just at the Annunciation but also in all those decisions a parent has to take when rearing a child.

Education Sunday is held in England and Wales by many churches. A time to pray for all involved in education, from Nurseries to Universities; indeed today’s writer, Maria Montessori, would have totally agreed with the Catholic Church’s assertion that parents are the first teachers of their children. Read her words and imagine Mary and Joseph’s  parenting.

We must come to a full understanding of the state of being of the newborn child. Only then will the absolute necessity of rendering easy his initiation into life become evident, The newborn child must become the object of knowledgeable care. Even holding him requires the utmost gentleness, and he should not be moved except with great tenderness. We should understand that in the first moment, and even in the first month, he should be kept very quiet.

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, p23.

 

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30 July: Fair Trade and Climate Change II.

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The second Fairtrade farmer introduced by the Fairtrade Foundation. 

Zeddy Rotich, a coffee farmer in Kenya

Zeddy explains how Fairtrade has helped her take action on the climate crisis locally.

“Climate change is affecting us because the weather patterns have changed. We fear low coffee production in future because of it. But through Fairtrade we have received training on climate change and we are taking action. However, we still need more, because we need to train other people who are not aware about climate change.

“We also need more tree nursery beds, so that we can plant more trees as a way of tackling climate change.”

There is a need for more tree cover in our own country too, extending rural forests but also in towns where we need their green lungs.

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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6 July: U is for Upham

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I’d forgotten this alphabetical gazetteer of places around Britain till I turned over the drafts folder. There are fewer places beginning with U than you might expect. Uttoxeter? Horse racing and biscuits. I could tell a story about biscuits from forty years ago, but I’m going back further, to my schooldays, and the village of Upham, unofficially known to us at school as Upper Upham, to distinguish it from nearby Lower Upham.

Both villages are tucked away off main roads in rural Hampshire. As a teenager, I was sent to Upper Upham as a catechist to a young boy preparing for his First Holy Communion; I was following in the footsteps of other boys who had taught his sisters. We were given adult responsibility as teenagers. And I had an early taste of working one to one with children out of school, though this lad was simply receiving some of the religious education he would have been give had he been in a Catholic primary school. He was not a school drop out or throw out.

My lad did not live in the Brushmaker’s Arms, but we sometimes made our way in there. Smaller than this it was, as I recall it, all cool and dark inside, but it is good that it’s still open, and welcoming far more customers than 50 years ago. No doubt we’d have to show ID to get a glass of beer there if we were teenagers today.

Our Church seems as confused about young people as the rest of society. Children or adults? Capable of preparing younger children for the Sacraments? We don’t really trust them, yet catechists are needed and grandparents should not do it all, willing though they may be. Readers, ministers of the Eucharist? They won’t volunteer if they don’t think they fit the picture; and someone has to put them there.

It’s worth recalling that youngsters like Saint Pancras gave their lives for their faith; and for every young Roman man I know of there are many young women, Roman and British: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Perpetua, Felicity get mentioned in the Roman Canon at Mass, they were considered that important in those days; Tydfil, Winifred, Eanswyth, Mildred among our more local heroines.

Do we think young people in Britain today can have a lively faith, evident in their lives? Just asking.

 

 

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1 July: Into the forest

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I don’t think the ancient Israelites were altogether fond of the forest. One of the most vivid forest stories tells how Absalom, David’s rebel son, was caught by the hair as he rode under an oak tree while his mule galloped on without him. Absalom was a sitting duck for Joab and his men, who killed him, bringing David to tears. (2 Samuel 18, 19). Earlier, in Joshua 17, we read how the tribe of Joseph cleared away the forest to have room to settle and farm, a process that continues around the world to this day.

But something is lost as we clear the forest and then build suburbs over the resulting fields. Closeness to creation and the creator. Abel, at 3¾ years has found it at Forest School: he spends a day a week in the woods with his nursery school, getting muddy and enjoying himself among the trees. We would wait forever for him to tell us what he gets up to, but my teachers’ magazine ‘Educate’ tells how children are equal partners in learning and can take over the leadership of such sessions, under the guidance of their teachers.

One teacher, Jen Hawkes, says, ‘It’s about shared experiences and making friendships. They build a bond in the forest that helps them in the classroom. We’ve had lots of children making friendships who have previously struggled with that – which is so important, especially for mental health.’ So what the children do is by no means all that they learn out of doors. They learn to trust each other.

Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic in sending us schoolboys into the woods on half-holidays. There would be one or two at least in July; the priest-teachers were probably as sick of lessons as we were, and whatever we may have fancied they were up to in our absence, they no doubt had meetings to discuss our progress and all the routine matters that arise in any school. But we were free for the day. Note the seven pound jam tins, blackened from being used to cook a shared meal on the open fire to the left.  Glamping this was not!

Fifty-odd years after this photograph captured the moment, I am in touch with three of the lads shown. That says something for the bonds built in the forest and other parts of our shared life. Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic!

MMB

 

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