An incarnational, sacramental, relational poem
by the Australian artist Michael Leunig.
I see a twinkle in your eye,
So this shall be my Christmas star
And I will travel to your heart:
The manger where the real things are.
And I will find a mother there
Who holds you gently to her breast,
A father to protect your peace,
And by these things you shall be blessed.
And you will always be reborn
And I will always see the star
And make the journey to your heart:
The manger where the real things are.
In the September-October term holidays, I was privileged to undertake an indigenous immersion experience in Central Australia with twenty-six senior secondary students. This immersion program was instigated and coordinated by a dedicated staff member at St Peters and used an outside provider Red Earth that specialises in these school trips for logistical support and staff. For nine nights we slept in swags under a spectacularly shining Centralian sky. Our group spent time in two homelands with traditional owners (TOs) who shared their knowledge, culture, language, food and land. Our students appreciated the generous hospitality of the TOs, the time they spent teaching something of their culture, their warm-heartedness and their openness to respond to questions.
Since coming back to the rush of school, some of the students have reflected on their immersion experience in chapels, assembly and with their parents at a debrief evening and presentation. An immersion experience like this is one of the most powerful formation experiences we can give students or staff. Immersing ourselves in the culture, people, land and struggles of other peoples can make this sort of learning deep, lifelong and transformational. The trip including an encounter with the police and a visit to a police station in the APY lands gave students a small taste of the complexities facing indigenous people in this part of our country.
A highlight for me was catching up with a friend from seminary days in Adelaide who has spent all of his ministry in Central Australia or the Top End, Basil Schild. Basil is currently a chaplain at Yirara College and kindly on short notice spoke to our immersion students while we had a slither of time in our itinerary in Alice Springs. From Basil students heard a positive story of the Lutheran mission to Aboriginal people in Central Australia. Like the master storyteller he is, Basil engagingly told the history of the Hermmansburg missionaries Kempe, Schwartz and Schultz, how they arrived at Ntaria. And how Carl Strehlow recorded the language and customs of the Arrernte people like no one else at the time or ever since has.
This is a piece I wrote for a special edition of the Lutheran Theological Journal in August this year. This edition focused on how the Lutheran Church of Australia and its agencies might consider ordering its ministries as it continues into a future where there is a shortage of pastors, chaplains and ministry workers.
What might ministry look like in the Lutheran School of tomorrow? What might ministry look, feel and sound like?
Might it involve church starts and plants within and around the school community that bridges the work of the school with the surrounding community as well as the weekend worshipping community? Could a school be known in its local neighbourhood for more than parking and traffic issues? Might community gardens, contemplative spaces and labyrinths, and natural or reinvigorated vegetation be part of the school’s service to its immediate neighbours? Might the parents, grandparents, and friends of a school be a hub for serving the needs of the wider locality, the poor, the vulnerable, or the homeless? Might students and staff be transformed in their learning to serve intergenerationally with the aged, the early years, or the housebound and lonely? Might a student’s head, heart, and hands be engaged in learning service and faith? Might a Christian spirituality be formed through acts of service to the neighbour and creation as much as what happens in chapel and the Christian Studies class?
How might this ministry be ordered so that God’s Spirit is let loose on his people in missional and life-changing ways?
First, it might be helpful to gift the called. Lutheran schools in Australia have valued the ordained ministry and calling pastors to their learning communities. This is a gift that the church can continue to provide for our schools. In turn, our schools can gift the church with rich learning experiences from gifted educators who are called to grow children and young people in their sense of vocation in the world, their meaning and purpose in life, as well as their spiritual formation. Pastors who are a good fit for a school community and who are open to change, collaboration, and differing mindsets will have the opportunity to grow immeasurably in a Lutheran school.
Second, we can at the same time call the gifted. Many people in our school communities are gifted for ministry. They already serve in informal ways, alongside their normal teaching load. For those who have a heart for ministry and mission, are we providing pathways in the school community for them to serve in more acknowledged ways? Are there people from other Christian traditions or without a church background who have taken on the values of a Lutheran education so much that they want to give back and serve others with this same vision and motivation? With intentional mentoring and theological upskilling are they ripe for God to use to help grow, disciple and form other students and staff in a Christ-centred way?
Third, as we gift the called and call the gifted in our school communities can we also give the ministry worker their recognition as being central to the mission of the church in schools? Can we look at being intentional about ordaining the lay chaplain who is part and parcel of the culture of the school? The lay person who lives and breathes the faith and mission of the church. One obvious way of acknowledging this growing form of ministry is for suitably gifted and called lay chaplains to be ordained as SMPs, Specific Ministry Pastors for their school community.
A practical implication of the above thinking is that chaplains in schools will need to be initially or even largely trained in situ, in their own school learning community. The principle of subsidiarity holds for not only decision-making in governance but also in terms of ministry pathways and training. This certainly does not diminish the need for a solid theological education of chaplains and pastors for Lutheran schools but now more than ever there is a need for ministry workers to be trained locally as much as centrally. Larger Lutheran schools that have the capacity to develop chaplaincy teams of three or more chaplains could include training them with the support of regional educators and partnering with ALC for more intentional learning of school chaplaincy through distributive means.
Further, college pastors in medium to large-sized schools are more and more involved in the formation of staff as well as students. An example of where they and other minister workers are crucial in the life of our schools is their work with the two hundred plus staff in Lutheran schools across Australia who undertake Connect each year. Connect is LEA’s in-service accreditation and formation program for teaching staff new to the Lutheran system. Compare this large number of staff to the negligible number of preservice teachers who undertake the Lutheran strand as part of their educational degree in recent years.
The seeds of this type of vision for ministry are already germinating in some places within our church schools. The question is are our eyes open and attentive to where God is working and growing his word of grace amongst our communities? And is our ordering of these ministries allowing the called to be gifted and the gifted to be called? Are we putting our energies into pathways that are already developing and in which we can intentionally form staff and grow more ministry workers in Lutheran schools?
Senior College Pastor
St Peters Lutheran College
Moving to a larger school I have had the joy of being involved in leading more chapels each week. St Peters offers five chapels a week across differing years levels and with the majority of our students being in the secondary years we have a separate Senior School chapel for Years 11-12. So together with my colleague Kirstin Munchenberg, we can tailor our messages and content to more specific age ranges. This term in Senior Chapel we are specifically targetting our time around an apologetic series I've called "Big Questions". The questions we are focusing on in each chapel are:
At the start of this term my school had a staff retreat at Luther Heights campsite at Coolum. It was well received by staff to be at an external site and in such a beautiful part of the Sunshine Coast. Despite the Covid restrictions for the number of people we could have in buildings, we will still able to use rooms and the outdoors, rotate groups of people, and be blessed by our own staff leading activities based on the theme. The theme for the retreat built on the college's theme for the year, Connection to Self, Connection to Others, Connection to Creation and Connection to Christ. One of the activities for the Connection to Self station was a self guided Examen that staff were able to use for their own silent prayerful reflection while taking in views of the ocean. If you are unfamiliar with the Examen it comes from the Jesuit tradition of the Catholic Church from St Ignatius. Below you can view this self guided Examen we used. Most of the content in it comes from an American Catholic Educator called Dennis Hamm.
Is your school implementing positive psychology programs like PERMA and other wellbeing systems? How does this work in a Lutheran school? Here is a condensed version of a paper I have already posted on this site on my school's journey with Positive Psychology and some of my thinking on how it dialogues with Lutheran theology. My original longer paper was written to help me explore points of connection and gaps between Lutheran theology and positive psychology. This shorter paper was written for an educational supplement edition of the Lutheran Theological Journal which came out in May this year.
The following devotion gets to the guts of a biblical, Hebraic and I would say Lutheran understanding of meditation. This devotion is from Chad Bird's "Unveiling Mercy; 365 Daily devotions based on insights from Old Testament Hebrew" p.181.
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.
The Hebrew verb for meditate is hagah. But don't conjure up the image of a Buddhist monk sitting in the lotus position chanting "Om." Picture a lion growling over his prey (Isa 31:4). Picture a dove cooing or moaning in distress (Isa 38:4). The prophet Isaiah uses hagah to describe the sounds of both these animals. This is the voice of meditation.
Meditation, in other words, is not about closing your eyes, saying nothing, and disappearing inside yourself. It is about focusing your eyes on the Bible, saying the words, and disappearing inside Christ. When you meditate, you are a lion crouching over its prey. You are the eater and the Word is your food. Take a bite, chew it, taste it, crunch the verbs, salivate over the nouns. There's no rush. This is not McDonald's. Savour the feast. Growl over the words you swallow. Let them echo from the chambers of your body. Let each one have its say. No word is unimportant. Each has a voice. Let them roll off your tongue. What you are eating is what you are saying. God's Word becomes your word.
O Lord, teach us to delight in your Word, that we may meditate in it day and night.
What does formation look like for a staff member in a Lutheran school? By that, I mean what does a spiritual-theological experience of formation looks like that helps shape a person's understanding of why we do what we do in a Lutheran school? Does a formation experience in a Lutheran school look like staff undertaking the official LEA Connect program? Is it about their induction into a new school setting? Or what about a staff member's engagement in a school's worship life, be that a chapel service or staff or class devotion? These situations can indeed be formational experiences for staff new to a Lutheran school, but they are not what I would argue is deep intentional formation.
A truly intentional formation experience for staff in a Lutheran school involves transformation. Transformation by the gospel as a person's heart is shaped by God. Formation in a Lutheran school is not just about being informed by the gospel, but it is being reformed and transformed, personally, professionally and vocationally.
Over the last year, I have undertaken postgraduate research into the formation of staff in Lutheran schools. Part of my human research involved a case study of a Lutheran school where I interviewed two teachers and the principal and pastor. In these interviews, one formation story of transformation stood out to me. This formation story involved a complete change of mindset for one of the teachers regarding their attitude to the weekly compulsory staff devotion. When this teacher first arrived at the school, they were frustrated that prime time at the start of the school day was used for staff devotions. However, gradually God broke through this person’s attitude and heart as they came to a change of mind. This teacher learnt to deeply value this time with fellow staff members listening to God's word, praying, reflecting and being still together before the rush of the school day.
Formation experiences in Lutheran schools like this one involve much more than information. They involve a transformation of the heart as people engage with the gospel and are changed by the Holy Spirit.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
Links I Like: