Do you uses Ashes in your school worship during Lent? If you do, why? And if you don't, what's stopping you?
Over the last three years I have included what's called the "Imposition of Ashes" into our normal chapel cycle during the first week of Lent. Our Secondary Chapel conveniently falls on a Wednesday and our Primary and Kindy chapel on a Friday. In our Y6-12 Chapel, I ash about 5 staff who then go to various stations around our worship space with myself where students can voluntarily go to receive the ashes and traditional words; "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return". What's been pleasing is the increasing number of teenage students who feel comfortable to stand up in front of their peers to receive this visible mark of Lent on their foreheads. In our Primary Chapel I invite all classroom teachers who want to, to come forward and be ashed. These teachers then go back to their classes and walk along the lines to ash their students who are standing to signify their willingness to participate in this ritual. Most of these younger students eagerly do this.
This year in our Junior Chapel I ashed a three year old from our Kindy and even a baby that a mother was holding. Why would we want to remind a baby and mother that they are going to die and return to dust and ash one day? Sweet innocent babies dying, is that what Lent and Ash Wednesday is about?
Lent and Ash Wednesday are certainly about dying and rising. The way of the cross is the pattern Jesus established for his disciples. Dying to sin and death. Rising to forgiveness and new life. Giving students the opportunity to participate in those black smudged marks in the shape of a cross on their foreheads is a worthwhile activity. A ritual activity worth doing in an invitational way.
God bless your Lenten journey in your school as you highlight this special time.
3. Leading the Team
Working in a Lutheran School or Early Learning Centre means one needs to be engaged in leading the team. All of us have the opportunity to lead and work together collaboratively in a team to enhance student learning and wellbeing. We are all being formed to engage, influence and lead others. The four descriptors for leading the team in the Growing Deep framework are creating purpose and clarity, nurturing faith, growing capacity, and inspiring excellence.
3.1 Creating Purpose and Clarity
This first descriptor for leading the team involves creating a very clear sense of purpose and clarity for the school, team, or area of responsibility where God and students are at the centre. It involves establishing a compelling vision and describing how each person’s role plays a valuable part in achieving that greater purpose. It includes clearly and intentionally prioritising responsibilities and articulating how the broader Lutheran education vision and purpose are translated into practical day to day actions, tasks, decisions and behaviours.
One image used for being purposeful and having clarity is that of a group of ships who are all sailing in the same direction. When an organisation is not sailing together in the same direction, it takes much longer and more effort for the flotilla to turn around and face the right direction, to follow the lead boat. Some schools and colleges are larger and have a longer history of tradition, culture and systems. Other schools have a younger history and are smaller and more easily redirected to their purpose. Having the same purpose and clarity is key for all staff in a school, key in terms of their own roles, in terms of how their role helps the overall purpose of the school, and in terms of Lutheran education in general as a system of schools.
It’s not surprising then that one of the images the early Christians used for the church was a boat. From the Old Testament story of Noah and his family and animals safe from the flood in the ark, to Jesus calming the storm from a boat on Lake Galilee in the Gospels, the boat has been an important image of the Christian Church. The Church is a community on a journey through the storms of life, weathered at times but safe within the shelter of God’s ship, Jesus Christ himself. Architecturally, some churches are even built in the shape of a boat to epitomise this symbology.
One particular story from the gospels which portrays this imagery is in Mark 4:35-41. In this passage Jesus says to his disciples; let’s cross to the other side of Lake Galilee. He calls his disciples to hop into the boat and travel with him. Jesus had no tinny with an outboard motor; he was asking them to row to the other side of the lake. To row together effectively takes a coordinated effort and teamwork. Something any organisation needs to do to create clarity of purpose.
To use that analogy in our situation in Lutheran education, what does our boat, our particular school look like? Are we rowing in the same direction as the other boats in our LEA flotilla? And for that matter have we all hopped into the boat Jesus is leading?
Jesus calls us to step into the boat. Our job is to travel with him to the other side of the lake. We row to the other side by working together and following where he leads us. Where God is at the centre of our work as Lutheran Schools, we are on track rowing in the right direction. Are we working together for this common purpose and vision? Is God and the students entrusted to us at the centre of all we do? Is this vision of God, relationships and learning informing all the small, mundane everyday decisions we make as educators?
Lord Jesus, give us clarity and purpose as we work together and encourage one another in our school environment. Help us to see that we are all in this journey of life and learning together. Where there is uncertainty give us your direction, where there is disagreement give us your guidance. Lead us together to safer waters as we engage in the Christian community in this school. In your name we pray. Amen.
 Neville Grieger, Seeking Authenticity, 2012, pp.18-19.
One of the gems I have learnt through my involvement in Child, Youth and Family Ministry is the development of spiritual milestones in the development of young people. In congregational settings Lutherans in Australia have typically celebrated baptisms for young children and confirmation for young teenagers. During my ministry in the parish I made the most of introducing and enhancing a consistent First Communion practice to ten year olds. Since the mid 1980s the Lutheran Church of Australia approved congregations introducing communion before confirmation as another option to the traditional practice. This was a another significant spiritual milestone especially for those families who were regularly worshiping in the life of a congregation. When I moved into school ministry I continued this ministry to families at these sacramental times, adapting and tweaking them to spark off faith formation in school families in an invitational way, attempting to link them with the local congregation.
Another spiritual milestone I have worked with and easily introduced to church-school settings is the presentation of Bibles to school families. Many Lutheran schools and some congregations gift Bibles to Preps and other year groups in Primary and Junior Schools. Instead of doing this in the school setting at a weekday chapel, why not invite the cohort to your local congregation for Sunday worship. Celebrate the treasure of receiving God's Word intergenerationally. Use the service as an opportunity to not only gift Bibles to families but also to equip parents to read God's Word with their children. Many parents who have not grown up in a church culture often feel unable to read the Bible with their children. Equip parents with confidence that they can be part of their child's faith formation and bless them, their children, and their teachers. I have found that children are often the best evangelists. who end up teaching their parents the scriptures!
Then after the service think of what follow up you could develop whether that is in the classroom with teachers or volunteers from church. An easy idea is to recruit congregational members to read bible stories in the classroom. Retired members of the church who have a heart for children love to do this. Another good milestone time for introducing the Bible to children is around Year 4. At this age children generally have some confidence in their reading skills so it is an opportune time to present them with a full text of the Bible which is kid-friendly. One that I have used is the NIrV Adventure Bible which is available through Koorong. Once again it is important to not only gift the Bible but bless the child, equip the parent/parents, and develop follow up strategies to continue the Bible reading habits ideally that reinforces what happens at school with what happens in the home and what happens in the church.
2.4 Networking and Strategic Relationships
The fourth descriptor for engaging the community is networking and strategic relationships. This descriptor involves identifying, building and nurturing mutually beneﬁcial relationships with key individuals or groups within, across and beyond the education sector. It also includes relationships where service to others is the focus. It includes developing and honouring relationships and networks that are of tactical and strategic importance in the development and growth of Lutheran education.
Some people love networking and doing the conference small talk. Others would prefer to stay curled up at home with a good book by themselves. When we ponder this descriptor of networking and strategic relationships we may well think of the networking and relationship building that occurs at conferences and times of professional development. These times and connections are important for our personal growth as educators and for the corporate growth of the Lutheran schools we serve. But significant to our Lutheran culture is that we also build genuine trusted relationships with others not only to grow professionally but also because of the partnership we have in the gospel. The apostle and missionary Paul wrote at the beginning of his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in northern Greece; Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:2-5
The sort of relationship we wish to build with people, organizations and professionals, inside and outside of our school walls is described here as a partnership. Paul uses the Greek word; koinonia which means fellowship, communion, joining together, as well as mutually dependent partnership. The sense is always of a shared relationship, a two-sided relationship. Paul also begins his letter thanking God for the early Christian community in Philippi, assuring them of his prayers for them and the joy he receives from the spiritual bond he has with them because of the gospel of Jesus. There is a spiritual bond we have with other Lutheran Schools and with other Christian schools and Christians because we have something in common, the gospel of Jesus Christ. This partnership in the gospel means we build relationships where the focus is not just on what we can get but also on service to others. We often learn best when we work together with others and from others. The Philippians meant so much to Paul because they had been partners with him in the work of God.
In our school contexts we have several crucial partnerships. We have a partnership with students and their families as learners. We have a partnership with each other as colleagues and educators. We have a partnership with God in continuing to care for his creation the environment. And we have a partnership with Christ in the gospel through the agency of the church.
As well as all the educational partners we have to improve student learning we also benefit from the partnerships we have within the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). Two agencies of the LCA who in particular use this biblical language of partnership are Mission International and Australian Lutheran World Service. Mission International focus on the overseas mission of the LCA to particularly partner churches in South East Asia. While Australian Lutheran World Service is the overseas aid and development organization of the LCA. Both of these agencies of the Lutheran Church provide numerous opportunities for schools and colleges to develop their own partnerships with people, communities and churches overseas. As Christians who are concerned with the gospel and the needs of others, we are engaged in promoting and sustaining partnerships on the local, national and global level. As partners of the gospel we have a common task to educate students entrusted to us so that they also learn of their role and participate in the mission of God in the church and in the world.
Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite mystic and reformer, wrote the following prayer, concerning the partnership we have with Christ in the world. Let’s pray:
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Amen.
The teenagers in our society are at the forefront of remaking religion in Australia. They are often portrayed generally as being less religiously inclined than previous generations. But this survey shows that if you dig a bit deeper there is a lot of diversity among our teens on matters of faith and spirituality. While only a minority follow a faith with strong conviction, as a whole they are not anti-religious. One of the focus groups targeted in this survey were Year 9 and 10 students across three states. From their data six spirituality types were identified; This Worldly, Religiously Committed, Seekers, Spiritual but not Religious, Indifferent, and Nominally Religious.
The Conversation New research shows Australian teens have complex views on religion and spirituality
2.3 Building Support
The third descriptor for engaging the community is building support. This involves skilfully communicating and negotiating with others (directly or indirectly) in order to build support and develop ownership and shared acceptance for ideas, actions and decisions. It includes preparing thoroughly, understanding the audience and adjusting communication style and approach to appropriately engage with others and their perspectives. It may include working over an extended period of time to build long-term support for strategically important decisions and initiatives.
In the quintessential Australian film of 1997, “The Castle”, Darryl Kerrigan is in his shed with his son Steve at the start of the movie. Steve shows his Dad his invention of a motorcycle helmet with a built in break light. While this is happening younger son Dale Kerrigan says this about his brother… “Steve is an ideas man. That’s why Dad calls him the Ideas Man. He has lots of ideas.” We have all experienced an ‘ideas man’ or person. Someone who is always ready to offer the greatest of ideas but puts them forward and leaves them in the ether for someone else to action.
This descriptor is about moving beyond the ‘ideas man’ to engaging collaboratively with the members of our school community by building support for our ideas by developing a wider ownership for them, and a willingness to changing our ideas when needed. It is an acquired skill that involves reasoning, negotiating, collaborating, changing, adapting and tweaking. All of us have ideas of how to improve learning for students, how to improve wellbeing for students and staff, how to improve the way in which our school operates, the trick is to build support for these ideas amongst our colleagues so that they are owned by staff, students and families alike. Human nature makes it is too easy for us to be overly critical of someone else’s ideas and shoot them down or on the other hand we can think that we do not have ideas of value and worth to share with others. Creating the space where people are willing and able to share their ideas and thoughts, and are free to collaborate to build on them and extend them is what a learning organisation is all about. St Paul puts it this way in Galatians 6:5-6; Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
In a Christian learning organisation, we encourage everyone to do their creative best with their God given gifts but we also acknowledge that we share in a “generous common life” which spills over into the lives of others. We are part of a grace filled community which means we are free to share our talents, ideas and abilities with others because we have been shown the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We belong to a God who is generously overwhelming in the good gifts he gives us. As people formed by the Holy Spirit we can break out of the self-sufficient mode of thinking and operating as we engage in the blessings of being in community. Looking beyond the scarcity mindset, the perceived lack of resources, money and people to a culture of abundance and generosity of God’s good providence is vital to our healthy functioning in Christ. Sharing in the generous common life we have is a constant message we need to hear if we want to change the culture in our school communities to be one of freedom where staff and students alike are equipped to support one another’s ideas, plans and actions.
Lord God, you have placed me into the community of this school. You have given us great colleagues and staff who have tremendous gifts, creative abilities and ideas. Help me to act out of your abundance rather than my scarcity. Help me to join in the generous common life we share. Help me to encourage and build support for ideas that engage children and young people in learning and in growing in your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
 The Message translation
The late Pastor Rick Zweck wrote this poem/prayer which is pictured below. He wrote it for people to reflect on as they walk the labyrinth. I have continued this tradition at Pacific Lutheran College and prayed it with students and staff as they walk the labyrinth he helped establish at the college. Rick's prayer touches upon so many parts of the Christian life in particular, I always find poignant his words;
You have created rivals - you will find companions.
You envisaged enemies - you will find brothers and sisters...
Set out! You were born for the road - the pilgrim's road...
Go! God already walks with you!
Recently I organised this prayer to be put on a plaque and installed at the entrance stone to our outside labyrinth at Pacific. It is a fitting reminder to all who stumble across our labyrinth why we encourage it use; because those pilgrims who seek God often discover that God already walks with them on the journey of life.
What cultural forces are at play in your Church-School relationship? I have developed the following audit tool from Educationalist Ron Ritchhart of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From his research in schools where cultures of thinking was evident, Ritchhart has formulated eight cultural forces which effect learning. For more information on Ritchhart click on http://www.ronritchhart.com. These cultural forces include time, opportunity, routines and structures, language, modelling, interactions and relationships, physical environments, and expectations. I believe these categories of culture can likewise speak into the realm of church-school relationships (thank you to Sue Zweck for the original idea!). You might find this audit tool useful to question what cultural forces are at play in your Church-School relationship and also to critically think where your partnership is spending its time and energy. This audit tool would be a great springboard for discussion between your principal and pastor, school and church councils, or mission and ministry teams.
Click on the "Papers" tab at the top of this page to download the audit tool.
2.2 Listening and Understanding
The second descriptor for engaging the community in LEA's 'Growing Deep' leadership and formation framework is listening and understanding. This descriptor involves the ability to be fully present and engaged in eﬀective dialogue with others in a way that communicates a deep respect and empathy for their circumstances, background, culture and intentions. At its deepest level it involves insightfully reading the unspoken thoughts or feelings of others and underlying assumptions, intentions or reasons for their behaviour.
Deep listening and understanding is a precious skill for all people in life as well as in education. Being fully present for others in a way that opens up the mind to truly listen to another human being as well as develop empathy and understanding for them is a great gift. Indeed, it could be called a spiritual gift where one person connects to another person, soul to soul in what could be called a holy moment.
In our school context, a deeper listening and understanding of a student is especially important when it comes to behavioural issues. Building a strong positive relationship with students, especially when they struggle is at the heart of teaching. A Stanford University study encouraged middle school teachers to take on an “empathetic mindset” when disciplining students. The study found that the number of students who were suspended across the academic year halved, from 9.6% to 4.8%. When teachers were given the opportunity to communicate their empathetic tendencies, student-teacher relationships improved. Focusing on relationships helped humanize students. In a world where we are tempted to treat students as clients, commodities or outcomes deep personal relationships where listening and understanding are present is crucial and beneficial for everyone.
Listening and understanding another human being involves the stuff that glues relationships together; empathy and graciousness. Being present for another person without judgement or agenda, showing an openness to receive what they are saying. Having patience and self-control to respond with understanding and insight are stabilizing qualities that connect us together in any relationship. In the New Testament book of James chapter one verse nineteen we hear these words; My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. How do we “be quick to listen and slow to speak?”
A helpful place to start working on our own listening and understanding is to look at the quality of our listening. Poor listeners are often unable to separate their own needs and interests from those of others. Everything they hear comes with an automatic bias: How does this affect me? What can I say next to get things my way? Poor listeners are more likely to interrupt: either they have already jumped to conclusions about what you are saying, or it is just of no interest to them. They attend to the surface of the words rather than listening for what is “between the lines.” When they speak, they are typically in one of two modes. Either they are “downloading”—regurgitating information and pre-formed opinions—or they are in debate mode, waiting for the first sign that they think that you don’t like them so they can jump in to set you straight.
In contrast, good listening, involves open-minded, genuinely interested attention to others, allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what they say. It seeks not just the surface meaning but where the speaker is “coming from”—what purpose, interest, or need is motivating their speech. Good listening encourages others to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly. It involves listening, from a deep, receptive, and caring place in oneself, which leads to deeper and often subtler levels of meaning and intention in the other person. Deep Listening is an ongoing practice of suspending self-oriented, reactive thinking and opening one’s awareness to the unknown and unexpected. Deep listening also has a spiritual dimension in Christian community. We take the time to listen to others and are not quick to judge them because God displays these characteristics to us. When we practice these traits in our school communities and are encouraged by those who practice deep listening to us we are being formed in the image of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the most famous Lutheran of the 20th century wrote in his spiritual classic on Christian community, “Life Together” the following about listening. He described ‘listening as a ministry’ and that ‘listening can be a greater service than speaking.’ Also that ‘the person who can no longer listen to his brother or sister will soon be no longer listening to God either; they will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.’
Lord Jesus, as you listened to your heavenly Father and understood his will for your life, give us the capacity to deeply listen to the students entrusted to us. Deepen our ability to be patient and empathetic to them and their parents. Give us your Holy Spirit when we fail to listen and speak clearly and sensitively to one another. Bless us with discernment as we communicate with one another with insight. Thank you for the gift of relationship in which we can learn to truly listen to one another for understanding. Amen.
 Bonhoeffer, D., Life Together, SCM Press, London: 1954, pp.75-76
I’ve come across again, the meditation resource which was developed by the Townsville Catholic Parish in the 2000s called “Coming Home”. There is a great guide which was written by Ernie Christie and published by John Garratt Publishing in 2008. Most of this material is online now http://www.cominghome.org.au. Amongst it there are ten helpful tips for the teachers to guide children in mediation;
 For Christians who meditate the mantra is an expression of faith in Christ who lives is us. The mantra helps deal with distractions and can lead to a point of simplicity. The mantra recommended by the 4th century monk John Cassian and John Main and the World Community for Christian Meditation is the Aramaic word ‘Maranatha’. Aramaic is the language Jesus spoke and the word maranatha is used in 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. Maranatha means “Come Lord Jesus” or “The Lord comes”.
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: