Christian visitors in school

Esther Bailey is the commissioning editor for 'Cracking RE'. She spent many years as a Christian visitor going into a number of primary schools in South West England.

Sue put down her planning papers with a sigh. Really, the best way to introduce this topic would be to invite a Christian into school to talk about his/her faith, but how would she go about finding one? And if she did find someone, how would she know that they were suitable, or that they were able to communicate with the pupils, or that their views were representative of Christianity as a whole, or that they would understand what is appropriate in school, or . . .?

Was it all too much trouble? She looked down at her notes again. For this topic, it would make much more sense to get in someone who could talk to the pupils from personal experience. She would just have to try to get it right!

 

Finding the right person

One way of finding a Christian is to ask whether any parents or governors have links with a local church. Failing that, a letter to a local church may be productive. It is useful to be as clear as possible about the sort of visitor that is needed – if the topic is about faith practised within a family, a parent may be helpful; if it is baptism, the vicar or minister may be the most suitable; an elderly person or a university student may be willing to talk about how their faith has influenced the choices they have made. It is important that the person is able to communicate in a way that pupils will understand.

In a number of areas, national charities or local trusts employ schools' workers. Many Christian schools' workers belong to a self-regulatory network, the Schools Ministry Network (http://www.schoolsministrynetwork.co.uk). To join the network, a schools' worker has to agree to work to a set of principles recognising appropriate approaches for schools as places of education. It is possible to find out whether there is a local schools worker by contacting The Schools Ministry Network at 207-209 Queensway, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK2 2EB, t: 01908 856168, e:info@schoolsministrynetwork.co.uk.

Giving the right briefing

Having found a suitable Christian to invite into school, it is important to brief them thoroughly. Are they to be interviewed, to make a presentation or to provide activities for the pupils to be involved in? It may be a good idea to plan the lesson together - after all, the visitor may be more of an expert in Christianity than you are, but you may be the expert in education, and you will certainly have more knowledge of the pupils.

Seeing it as an opportunity for 'team teaching' could be valuable to you, the Christian visitor and, most importantly, the pupils. If the visitor is providing activities for the pupils, ensure that they are suitable, and will not compromise the pupils' integrity. As a general rule of thumb, it is acceptable to state things that Christians believe to be true, as long as the comments are prefaced with a phrase such as "As a Christian, I believe ..." or "(Most/Many) Christians believe ..." However, there should be no implication that the pupils should or must believe whatever the visitor believes.

Be careful to explain to the visitor the difference between church, where there is an element of choice and 'opting in' in the attendance of children, and school, which is compulsory. Outline the educational objectives that you are hoping to achieve through the Christian’s visit.

Remind the visitor that most pupils will not understand Christian jargon. It is very hard for people to talk about their faith without using jargon, however unintentionally. Find out whether the visitor would be happy for the teacher or pupils to question things they have not understood.

It is also important to pass on some very basic information: What is the school's dress code? Does the visitor know the time you expect them to arrive and how long you are allowing for the visit? Is there a special system for 'signing in' when they arrive at the school?

The Culham Institute provides some very helpful advice for Clergy visiting schools, including information about schools, classroom management and layout, and scenarios that a visitor may encounter in school. It may be useful to suggest that the visitor has a look at http://www.culham.info/care/index.html to prepare themselves before they arrive.

What if it all goes wrong?

Sometimes, despite all the groundwork and preparation, it may happen that a visit does not work well. Of course, the simplest thing, if things go wrong, is just to decide not to invite that visitor back. However, it may be more productive to have a debriefing session with the visitor, explaining what you felt went wrong. It may have been a simple misunderstanding on the part of the visitor which could be put right, allowing a long-term relationship to develop between the school and the visitor/church/organisation.