Friday, October 13, 2006

What's the problem?

Catholic Herald 13 October 2006

When the Church of England decided last week to set aside a quarter of all its school places for non-Christians, I notice some curious reactions among parents, most audibly a sigh of relief. The tenor of the press coverage and playground gossip was: thank heavens! We don’t all have to pretend we are church-goers any more!

The great British public is not known for its logical powers. In this case, the reasoning goes something like this:

1. a lot of people can’t get their children into church schools.
2. Therefore church schools are hard to get into.
3. Therefore it must be made easier to get into them.
4. Therefore the obstacles set in the way of unsuccessful families must be removed.

The obstacle in the way is, of course, church attendance and involvement in a parish – in other words, evidence that you belong to the group for whom the school was originally founded. Supplying this evidence is “difficult” for many people because, of course, they don’t really belong there at all.

Now, the Church of England is an established church.. The Catholic Church is not. I won’t go so far as to stretch this analogy, but if Catholic schools had to take the same measure, it would be a little like setting aside a quarter of the stalls at Royal Ascot for donkeys, because donkeys seem to have such a hard time meeting traditional entry requirements.

I am fascinated, as regular readers know, by the uneasy interface between church schools and parents in this country. I am fascinated by the envy and suspicion with which church schools are regarded; they are looked on as having some kind of mysterious magic power which is being wilfully withheld from everyone else.

I am fascinated by the persistent, superstitious belief that if only secular parents were allowed to plonk their children down into the middle of a church school, then their children would mysteriously soak up these magic powers, and get better exam results. I am fascinated by the assumption that the secular family has a right to rely on their Christian neighbours to provide the school’s “ethos” from which the secular family can benefit, without in any way contributing to its upkeep.

I am equally fascinated by the assumption – mostly perpetrated by the media - that the practising of Christianity can only be a tiresome burden for any family, therefore is an “obstacle” to winning a school place.

This weekend, for National Parenting Week, I am talking to parents in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton about what it is that we mean when we say we are Catholic parents. The parents I will meet will not regard their faith as an obstacle; but if they are anything like me, they might sometimes feel discouraged that their determination to bring their children up in this faith is so little understood.

Most people, Professor Richard Dawkins included, have no idea what goes on inside a church. Those Sunday mornings in bed, it appears, are sacrosanct in their own way.

Last week we said goodbye to a young, newly-ordained priest who has been working in our parish for a couple of years. I hope he won’t mind me saying that during his time with us, he made friends with pretty well everyone and worked very hard, so we expected a full church for his farewell Mass – but I am not sure we expected it to be standing room only.

At the end of Mass I am not sure we expected to find ourselves on our feet giving him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. I am not sure we expected to find our hearts so uplifted as he unwrapped his gifts (an icon, and an iPod – what a euphonious combination). And I am not sure we expected to find the church hall so amply filled with good wine, home-cooked food and laughter afterwards.

Strange, that a farewell can be so joyous; yet it was, because although we were saying “goodbye” we were also affirming ourselves as a community. It was one of those moments when I wished I could parachute in Richard Dawkins, or Jeremy Paxman, or any of those snooty atheists, and say, “Look at what we are about! Joy, love and companionship! What’s your problem?”


1 comment:

Christian said...

Thank you for your blog, God Bless you :)