Tag: Education

Sheep or Shepherd?

Hurstpierpoint College Evensong
Friday 30 April
The Good Shepherd, John 10.11-16

The language and format of today’s service is a little different than many of the other Friday services we have had this year. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, which was finalised in its current form in 1662 and used in churches, chapels and cathedrals throughout England since. Its language can feel a bit archaic and you may find it hard to connect to these words.

But, when you think about it, there is something incredibly powerful about joining in words that have been used daily for over 350 years. Imagine just some of these occasions: the words we say and sing here today were said and sung during the years of the Great Plague in the 17th century; on the eve of the Great Fire in London; they were said and sung in 1918 at the end of the First World War, in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, and so on.

Not only were they used to mark significant moments in history, this service of Evensong has also been an opportunity to make a difference, to challenge the status quo. For example, at one such service money was raised in the 1950s for the Defence in the South African Treason Trials, in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were accused of treason. This service at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by a crowd of about 4,000 people that evening.

For us, here at Hurst, Chapel is one of the two moments of the week that we come together as a whole Senior School – albeit not physically in one place at the moment, of which we are acutely aware. It is a moment to remind ourselves of each other at the end of a busy week. We are one of the few schools who are still able to do this: to come together as a whole community to pause and to reflect, particularly in a beautiful building as this.

One of the themes that has come through in a lot of conversations over the last few weeks is what do we still have in common? In other words, what does it mean to be diverse, inclusive, but also a community? We so often focus on our uniqueness and our differences, but we can forget how much we have in common. So, for a moment, I would like you to think what you have in common with the people sitting next to you.

The obvious thing, given our seating arrangements, is that you are in the same house. You go to the same school, and you are probably looking forward to the bank holiday weekend, waiting for this service to be over …

But there are other, far less superficial, things you have in common. You sometimes worry about whether you fit in; there are times when you feel that people don’t really like you as you are; you have said or done things that you regret; you sometimes feel really happy and you don’t know why; and you make mistakes. Those are all things that make us human beings; they make us who we are, and as you grow up you discover the difficulties and the happiness that come with that.

Growing up is not necessarily about making fewer mistakes, but about trying not to make the same mistake again and again. Having spent quite a lot of time on the tennis courts in the last few weeks, forgive me for using this as an example. When you keep hitting the ball in the net and you don’t change your stroke, nothing is going to happen and you will never win a game. However, when you do try to get it over by changing your technique, you may find that initially you start hitting it out by miles. But then, with enough practice, you manage to find the perfect serve and beat your opponent.

That still doesn’t mean you will win all your matches though. As you get better, you move up in the leagues, and your opponents get better too. No matter which sport, at which level, there is not a game without human error.

That applies to life too. As you go through life and get better, hopefully, in making good decisions, life starts throwing more difficult situations at you. When you were in the Pre-Prep, no one asked you to sit an exam; no TikTok, no Instagram, no (still illegal) parties. No one asked you to plan your time or to start thinking about decisions about your future. Relationships get more complicated as you grow up too; friendships start to change, and you start having to manage differences of opinions in new ways.

In addition, this year, we have all been thrown by the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, which has made all these things even more complicated. Now we are starting a new phase, in which we can start doing the things we enjoy again, but we need to relearn them. We got out of the habit of living and learning together, and in some ways that is where we have missed out on some time.

That means that now is the time in which we all need to commit to living together once more. To take our individual and collective responsibility in forming happy, healthy and good relationships. In the imagery of our reading today, the story of the Good Shepherd, now is the time to stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep, but rather to start thinking of ourselves as shepherds. It is time to look out for each other, to give something of ourselves for those around us.

I’d like to finish with a question for you to take away, to think and maybe to talk about. What makes you you, and what makes you a Hurst pupil? What are our values and how are we going to live them out? And, as soon as we know the answer, how will we help each other to be the best possible version of ourselves?


Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves over the next few weeks as we come out of lockdown ­– hopefully for the last time – and resume, but also begin anew, our life together.

Go, and may the Lord be with you!

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 4th September 2020: Start of the Academic Year
1 Samuel 17.33-40: David & Goliath

The story we just heard, I am sure, is familiar to many. It is the story of David and Goliath: the story of the small boy determined to defeat the giant. Most of us too know how the story ends: David strikes down the giant with his sling and a single small stone. He defeats the enemy who had been terrorising the Israelites.

You may wonder: why this story today at the start of the new academic year 2020/2021? What can anything written so long ago teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live? I think rather a lot, and one of my hopes for our Chapel services is that we can all take something away from them, whether we are Christians, people of other faiths – or no faith –, or whether we don’t quite know yet what to believe.

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The rules have changed

A reflection for the Tuesday of Holy Week
Luke 22.24-53

In countries across Europe exam boards have decided to cancel all school exams. In England this means that pupils will get teacher-assessed grades this year. There has been much controversy over the decision to cancel the exams, rather than postponing them, and the debate on how precisely teacher should assess their pupils is still on-going.

No more exams? | The New Times | Rwanda

Some have mentioned that cancelling the exam was unfair: you cannot change the rules of a game this late on, so the argument goes. Pupils have a right to exam-assessed grades, as this is the goal to which they had worked. This comment made me think. Of course, it is not fair to change the goal posts at this late a stage. Most of us will remember the indignant feeling as children when our peers did exactly that: changing the rules of the game we were playing. However, we also have to admit that some situations require the rules to change, and we find ourselves in one of those situations.

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Care and try, but don’t worry

Sermon 9th February 2020 Marlborough College Chapel: Matthew 6.25-34 

As with so many readings from the Bible, at first the language might seem rather strange and the images that are used feel out of date. However, I think that it is not very hard to find a message that is still relevant for us, for you, this morning. Of course, I would say that, else I would probably not be standing here. I appreciate that you get advice from teachers and others all the time, so sometimes you may get a bit tired of it. Also, 8.30am on a Sunday morning is maybe not the time that you are most awake to absorb new knowledge and ideas. Fortunately, this morning’s reading can be summarised in a couple of words, easy to remember: don’t worry.

dont worry‘Don’t worry’ is not quite the same as ‘don’t try’ and even more different from ‘don’t care’. On the contrary, if you try and care, there is no reason to worry, however difficult this may be. Just a couple of example to illustrate this. The first one may be very much on your mind at the moment, or hopefully for at least some of you here: upcoming exams. And of course, a lot of you are worried, because they are important and may well have an impact on your future. That’s why you should care and try – which in this case means work hard.

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On whose terms?

The third reflection after my Camino journey is maybe particularly ironic as I am working at a school. As Santiago came closer, more people joined and the roads got busier and the group of walkers more diverse. It made me think about those times when we believe that our way is the only way.

On whose terms?

Quiet, please? was one of the headlines in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. Steve McQueen’s new installation in Tate Britain, Year 3, features over 3000 class photographs with the faces of about 76,000 children. All these children have been invited to visit the gallery to come and have a look. It will probably be a bit noisier than on an average day in the art gallery.

IMG_0364This was more or less what I experienced too, when on the penultimate day of my journey to Santiago, I was sharing the roads with a group of about 40 Spanish teenagers, and remarkable what seemed only one teacher. By this time I had got used to the hours with little noise and the relative isolation whilst walking. So this many people at once was a shock to my system in the first place.

Having been on enough school trips now, I was not surprised that the young people did not walk quietly two by two, but congested the paths whilst chatting, singing, smoking and vaping. Of course they had also at least one loudspeaker between three, each playing a different type of noise, which I am sure they will have called music – my initial annoyance, I am sure, is evident. How could these people disturb the last couple of days of my spiritual and religious journey? They weren’t even carrying their rucksacks, and probably hadn’t walked the hours I already had.

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Sowing seeds in fertile ground

A short reflection for the second week of Marlborough College Summer School

sowing-seeds1The reading set for today is the well-known parable of the sower (Matthew 13.1-9). We hear how the sower’s seeds fall on different type of ground: a path, some rocky soil, amongst thorns, and some of them fall on good soil. It is a story familiar to many of us, I suspect, and there is a lot that can be said. In this short reflection, I’d like to apply the image of the sower and the seeds to our approach to teaching and learning.

As with many Gospel stories, we are presented both with a challenge and a reassurance. The reassurance this time is on the side of the sower: you can’t always guarantee that your seeds will flourish, as the soil needs to be receptive. It can be an encouragement for all those involved in some sort of teaching: we can sow the seeds, but their success will still depend on the soil in which they fall.

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Achievement or enjoyment?

A short reflection in week 1 of Marlborough College Summer School

“you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” – Matthew 11.25

The daily Gospel reading for today doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for the first week of Summer School. Surely we are here taking or teaching courses to learn, to become wiser and more intelligent? And here Jesus says that the important things in life are actually hidden from the wise and intelligent and shown to infants.

summer school 1However, when we think about it, we realise that they are actually words of wisdom, conveying a truth we intuitively already know. Because I think, or I hope, that most of us here at Summer School are not here to achieve something, but rather to enjoy the process. There is no certificate, no diploma at the end for most of us, but what remains will be hopefully the memories and the discovery of skills and talents we didn’t know we had.

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The last day of term

rose gardenHere we are, on the last day of term. I’m sure most of us are looking forward to the holiday, to a break: a change of scenery and a change of rhythm. Some of us will travel far, others will stay closer to home. However, all of us, at least hopefully, will make it out of Marlborough. And, I also suspect that for most of us, the rhythm of the days and weeks will change for these two months: no check-in, Studies or prep. No assemblies, Chapel or fixtures.

And of course, although you may take some friends with you, it is also a break from those you see every day, whether that’s people you like or those whom you find slightly more challenging. The summer gives us an opportunity for a change of scenery, a change of rhythm, and a change of company.

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Caving or Chapel?

A sermon for Trinity Sunday
Marlborough College Chapel, 16th June 2019

cavingIn the Church year, today, the Sunday after Pencecost is known as Trinity Sunday. So, obviously, I have spent most of Shell OA week [a week of outdoor activities in the Brecon Beacons] not thinking about my wet feet, or my wet sleeping bag, or how to make the best hot chocolate for the New Court Shell, but about the best, least boring, way to explain the Trinity this morning. Thus, in the middle of the caves on Thursday, again water-soaked, I realised that maybe there is a comparison to be made between going to Chapel and caving. Hence, as Mr Clark still seems to be employed after comparing Pentecost to Love Island last week, I decided to take the risk. But more about that a bit later.

The Trinity, the belief that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God, is possibly the most complicated concept of Christianity. Hence, most Christians theologians agree that it is impossible to fully comprehend it, just as it is impossible to fully comprehend God himself. Of course, those sceptical of Christianity may reply that the fact that the concept of the Trinity defies logic is of itself proof that God cannot, and therefore does not exist. Followers of other monotheistic religions accuse Christianity of heresy by claiming that God is three persons in one.

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Being great, or too much pressure?

It is exam time again, and  that there is a lot of pressure on many young people. Not just to do well in exams, but also to make the most of those last few sports matches of the year. For some, it will mean try to catch up with work not done at the start of the year, and for others to achieve the ambitious target, which you or your university of choice has set, towards which you have worked for months.

exam

Those pressures are good to some extent, because they help us get the most out of ourselves. It may motivate us to get up a bit earlier, or to make the most of the hour before prep. But it can also come too much, when it becomes hard to sleep at all, or hard to see any enjoyment in what you are doing. Continue reading “Being great, or too much pressure?”