February is one of the busiest months of the year for school chaplains in Uniting Church schools across Victoria and Tasmania.
The role of a school chaplain varies from school to school. David Hall is one of two chaplains at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS). The skills they draw upon are typical of those throughout the school network. As well as pastoral care and worship leading he and fellow chaplain, Rev Janet Munroe, coordinate social justice activities, conduct fundraising events, lead prayers, coach sporting teams, drive mini buses and attend camps.
“Most school chaplains have just led church services to mark the commencement of the school year,” Mr Hall said.
“These provide an opportunity to reflect, pray for any personal or global concerns, be reminded of God’s love at the start of the year, hear of the Good News Jesus offers, and know that students and staff are connected with the Uniting Church through the school.”
Mr Hall and Ms Munroe held seven services last month, each attended by approximately 450 people. PEGS uses St John’s Uniting Church in Essendon as their chapel, which reinforces the church’s strong association with the school.
Students and staff will gather at St John’s again for a series of Easter church services, mid-year church services and the Valedictory church service for Year 12s. At the end of the year PEGS conducts a service of 9 Lessons and Carols at St Paul’s Cathedral because the attendance has grown beyond the capacity of St Michael’s or Wesley in the city.
Services are designed to cater for the multicultural nature of the school population, which includes Greek Orthodox, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus as well as Christians and those of no faith.
Mr Hall said that feedback from students and staff attending the services has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Just yesterday a Year 12 student told me she came out of the church feeling so inspired by the story she’d heard, the short video clips we’d shown and the music we had sung and played,” he said.
“We find the best way to connect the Gospel to such a diverse group is through a powerful story – whether that’s the story of Ruby Bridges or Archbishop Oscar Romero. A number of teachers now say to us: ‘Looking forward to whatever your story is at church’.”
The 2016 Commencement Services were particularly important for a lot of PEGS students as they mourned the death of one of their classmates due to come in to Year 7.
“He was a much loved member of the PEGS community, and died in mid-January after battling cancer for over two years. Year 7 is already a big step – even harder when you are facing this – so we’ve been offering the students involved a lot of care,” Mr Hall said.
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