“Hello Stanley” pipes up a cheery little voice behind me. It’s about 8.45 am and I’m walking up Wetmore Road to Holy Trinity C of E School for what they call Collective Worship and I call Assembly. I’m going sedately, taking in the local scenery of what used to be granary stores, malt houses, and architect-designed office blocks of unsurpassed ugliness. I’m going so slowly in fact that the patter of tiny feet overtakes me.
I shall miss the young people. They’re delightful: courteous, smiling, chatty. I know that for some, home lives are chaotic, and school for them is the safe place, the place of stability. But there’s no sign of that in how they deal with me.
I had a bit of a job getting them to call me Stanley, without any handle. The staff were in favour of Rev Stanley—ugh on so many levels—and were reluctant to let go. The children, though, took to it immediately. Father Stanley might have been OK, but I’m pretty sure that some of them wouldn’t be too sure what a father was, in any sense. So, Stanley it was and Stanley it remained.
Holy Trinity (Primary) School is the only Church of England school in Burton. It’s ironic that I should be the incumbent looking after it (for historical reasons, it’s attached to S Modwen’s), since I’m one of the few clerics that think institutionalised religion should have nothing to do with state education. But I’ve done my best.
Throughout my thirteen years as a cleric, I’ve always had schools. They are not my comfort zone. I’m used to dealing with late adolescents and young adults, not 5 to 10 year olds. I used to lose sleep over what I’d say to them. However, I learnt that they’re always fascinated by stories, especially personal stories about my childhood, and when I was at school. I know that other people do Bible stuff, so I try to put Christian teaching in what I hope is an everyday context, and I certainly heap no burdens of guilt or shoulds or oughts on them. The most difficult thing is to explain to, say, a six year old why, a few months after the nativity play, we’re telling of Jesus’ gruesome death. And as for the resurrection …. It’s too easy to be banal.
School work is now so specialised, and if you’re on a governing body (as I was) so demanding, that ordinary parish priests who find it stressful should have the option of handing it over to specialists who are not lumbered by routine parochial stuff. But, looking out of the window, I see pigs flying past.
I visited Holy Trinity four to six times a term. The other school I went to, Shobnall Primary, is not a church school, and I was there twice a term. It’s across the road from S Aidan’s and they use church at Harvest, Christmas and Easter, although that can’t go on much longer because soon the increasing number of pupils won’t fit. Shobnall children are lovely too, and at my last assembly earlier this week, I was fist-bumped and cuddled.
As I say, I shall miss the children. I’ve learnt far more from them than I suspect they have from me.