April has arrived, sun and all, and Celebrating RE Month is over for another year. Here's how it looked to Celebrate RE from here...I have travelled over 2500 miles, to meet over 2500 children and young people.
That's 1 train journey, 2 van journeys, a few London buses and tubes, 1 car journey for which I wasn't driving and, according to google, more than 24 hours spent on the road in my own car. If you look at the map (click it for a bigger version) you'll see I've driven all the way round the M25, as well as most of the M1, M4, M6, M23 and half the A1(M)
I've visited primary schools in Leeds and Farnham, a middle school in Pinvin and high schools in Littlehampton, Leeds, Gillingham, Nottingham, Sutton, Manchester, Bristol and Crawley, been part of an RE teacher training event in Twickenham and had meetings in Farnham, London and Luton.
Along the way, I've met some fantastic RE teachers and trainee teachers who are passionate about their subject, and about finding interesting and engaging ways for their pupils to explore Religious Education and really get their teeth into the questions of faith, life and belief that are part of it all.
There've been some great pupils too, who've really taken the time to see what the resources I bring are all about and to consider their own thoughts and beliefs too.
E, a sixth form student, who popped his head round the door while a class at his school were using breathe
, wanting to know what it was. We explained it briefly and invited him to the later sessions. He was a pretty cool kind of guy, if you know what I mean, and I wasn't sure he'd come back.
He did. In fact, he was one of the first to arrive at the next session. Armed with an ipod and headphones, he headed onto the mat but came off about 10 minutes later. "That was well hard miss" was his feedback as he put his shoes back on. We chatted for a bit about what it was all about. I admired his honesty - it is hard to think through this stuff, especially when you're surrounded by 34 others doing the same thing. After lunch there was a similar session. E came to that one too, willing to give it another try. Here's his post it note feedback at the end of that session:
At another school, we met A. About 8 or 9 years old, A came to Orison
with lots of questions about whether or not God exists, writing "Are you real God, because I don't know" on a post it note on the bubble tube, and "Why can't we see God?" on a big piece of paper on the floor full of questions for God. A also wrote her name on a big poster of a hand that we use for students to remind themselves that God knows who they are, if they want to. It seemed quite significant to see her name written there, surrounded by questions around the room about whether or not God (the one with the hands...) might even be real.
I love my job. For lots of reasons. One of those is that I get to see glimpses of the depth that there is in children and young people today. Even the classes that appear to be doing little more than messing around produce some great feedback and questions at the end of their sessions. I'm challenged by them to continue to find ways to help them explore and express these feelings, and to help them to learn how faith and spirituality can be a part of that journey.
So many of their questions and comments reveal much of what is happening with them. They leave you wishing you had answers for them, and praying that they find them.
There was T, who spent an hour in Orison
and left a trail everywhere he went, writing "Why did my sister have to die?" wherever there was an opportunity. What do you say to him?
And a year 10 pupil who asked a simple question as his feedback after breathe
What's your answer?
Or an honest moment from a teenage girl, revealing how she feels about herself:
This photo of Japan on a world map gives you some idea of how much young people are looking for genuine ways to respond to the things they see in the news.
There are loads more stories I could tell you, and more photographs too. And that's just the stuff I know about - I'm sure there's plenty more that was going on that none of the teachers or volunteers involved were aware of either. And this is why RE is important. Within a good school pastoral support system, and SMSC provision, RE enables pupils to really engage with the difficult questions, learn about how other people deal with them and find the tools and skills they need to be able to deal with them themselves too. Why do people die? Why do natural disasters happen? Why are some people rich while others are poor? Why do families break up?
It hasn't just been about schools, either. In the midst of all that, Tim Abbott
and I ran a session at an RE Teacher Training evening at St Mary's University College in Twickenham, encouraging RE teachers to continue to look for creative ways to tackle spiritual development with their pupils. There was also the licensing of a friend of ours, just embarking on life as a pioneer minister for the Church of England on a new estate in Corby, the opportunity to play contrabassoon for the first time in about 10 years with the All Souls Orchestra at Prom Praise
, a fun morning playing in a stream with some children, mojitos at sunset with the neighbours and a day with some students in Bristol, painting the inside of a store cupboard as part of a music video project (more on that later...)
This final photo of some student feedback sums it up for me. It was left after a breathe
session and there was a similar comment left after an Orison
session too. I didn't write either of them, and it's encouraging to read. But looking back over everything that's happened this month, I think it's my response too. Seeing so many children and young people exploring the questions and issues of faith and belief, and leaving such heartfelt responses - God might just actually be real!