While the United Kingdom is in the midst of its first-ever interfaith week, an eight-year partnership between a Baptist church and a multifaith school has become increasingly successful, The Baptist Times’ Paul Hobson reported.
Since 2001, Cranbrook Baptist Church in Ilford, North London, has welcomed 200 students to its sanctuary for a weekly assembly.
Originally with a Christian foundation, Cranbrook College is now multifaith. Its students are mostly from Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families, although all major religions are represented there.
But before 2001, the independent boys’ school found it hard to foster the kind of extended-family ethos in which it takes pride.
This was due to the school hall not being able to accommodate all of its students. Assemblies were somewhat cramped affairs.
Cue the local Baptist church. A conversation between the head teacher and Cranbrook’s minister, Rev. Ivan King, led to an invitation for the school to come to the church for an assembly.
This enabled all but the youngest students to meet each week to celebrate achievements, share news and simply appreciate being together.
Assemblies offered opportunities for students to consider some of the “big” questions of life not covered by the national curriculum.
The school and the church agreed to alternate in delivering this part of each assembly.
King told The Baptist Times that the partnership is “thriving” after eight years.
The college has its annual Christmas carol service, prize-giving ceremony and summer concert in the church.
King has been welcomed by the school in a chaplaincy role and is invited to key events in school life, such as school outings and staff dinners.
But the partnership is significant in many other ways, he explained. The church does not preach, but the content is anchored in the Bible, often quoted directly to illustrate a Christian viewpoint on the topic at hand.
Although most students are not Christians, not one family has withdrawn their son from assembly.
“This is remarkable when set alongside the fact that many multicultural, urban schools now do not attempt any kind of Christian assembly,” King said. While almost every week has an element of laughter and fun, sometimes it is necessary to confront “very hard questions indeed,” he said.
Topics covered have included bullying, the annual Remembrance assembly, natural disasters and whether the Afghan war is a just one. “This last topic is a very live issue, given the strong feelings within the Muslim population,” King said. “It is one where honesty and mutual respect in exchanging views have been key.”
Parents from different faith backgrounds have been “very supportive,” King added.
“A parent-governor told me that, though she was a practicing Hindu, she was delighted that her son was receiving a moral compass even if this was drawing upon Christian values.”
So what of lasting value has been achieved over the past eight years? King pointed to the example of a speech day a couple of years ago. A former year’s head boy had touched on what he had learned at the school.
Unexpectedly, he quoted directly from an assembly taken by one of the church teams, about facing up to the really important decisions, which are not limited to exam successes but about finding the right direction in life.
“This means that at least one student had not only listened but had heard,” King said.
“It is likely that many more have too and, if so, the church will have had the privilege of sharing something truly significant with these young men.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.