A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
In today’s epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians we heard: According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation and someone else is building on it.
As is usual on most Saturday mornings, yesterday I went to the Leonard Cheshire home to celebrate the Eucharist and to spend time with the residents – many of whom have no church connection other than me. Of the fourteen or fifteen who attend the Eucharist, some are Anglican, some RC , one or two from a very evangelical non-conformist background and three I suppose with no real, expressed faith. When I once asked the latter why they come, the summary of their answers amounted to ‘Because we like it,’ whatever ‘it’ meant, and we hear some good stories. Obviously not all who come receive the Sacrament because of physical problems – inability to swallow, being drip fed through the stomach, cannot chew , etc etc, or because they have not yet made a commitment to Christ but all who are able to speak love to share in the Lord’s prayer and to say Amen at appropriate times. Those of no known faith all receive a blessing and I am amazed at the way they receive this benediction – reverently , sometimes with an Amen but more often a ‘thank you’ . Two weeks ago, Nick, wheelchair bound, with no legs below the hip, sat at the back of the room, and although he took no part in the service, he stayed to the end. When we had gossip time, he joined in and I later walked with him to his bungalow and I didn’t mention his presence at the service. But he did – hope you didn’t mind me being there Fr Brian – first Mass I’ve been to since I came to Cheshire homes 6 years ago. I wasn’t going to stay for Mass but something made me, and once you’d started I had to stay. I’ll come again.
Well a long introduction to today’s theme – today is education Sunday – a day on which we think about and pray for the work of education in all its styles, audiences and establishments, because as you know, education is something that doesn’t just cover preparation for exams, GCSE or the new Baccalaureate. But when we talk about education, what exactly do we mean – the imparting of knowledge? The teaching of a skill or trade? The preparation for an exam? The involvement in different experiences and areas of development necessary for survival? Yes, all of these and more, but today, I want to focus on the spiritual aspect of education, on what is taught about faith and God, about prayer and responsibility to one’s neighbour, about respect and moral dignity, about being created in the image of God.
In the 1800s there were four types of schooling available – charity schools financed by a charitable organisation or Mission Society, mainly Church of England; Public Schools and Universities; Dame schools; and finally Church Schools. These last two were rivals – The British Schools, founded and supported by the non conformist churches, mainly Methodist; and the National Schools, founded in 1811, by the Church of England but catering for anyone. Their names British school and National school still exist on many of the old, now converted to dwellings buildings, in many of our villages. The aim of the National school was to make sure that the national religion (Anglicanism) should be the foundation of education and the first and chief thing taught to the poor according to the excellent liturgy and catechism ‘of OUR church.’
The goal was to have a church school in every parish and by 1851 there were 17,000 of them in England alone, built on Christian values and mainly for the poor. Everything taught was done within a moral framework and sought to impart basic knowledge and skills necessary to improve the quality of life in the big industrial cities.
Today there are only 5,000 Anglican church schools but they cater for one million children and young people, in addition to a large number of Roman Catholic schools and a few non- conformist ones. And how things have changed since those early days. Today, in Anglican schools at least, children of all faiths and none are welcome, provided certain criteria are met in respect of availability of places, but the emphasis is and will remain an emphasis on Church foundations. The aim is to develop the child, the whole child, not by indoctrination, but by helping them to become more fully human in recognition of their creation in the likeness and image of God.
Unfortunately at secondary level in particular, there is a diminishing emphasis on religious, moral and spiritual development and RE is becoming very much a twilight subject at senior level. Places for trainee teachers of RE have been reduced at universities and it is in the Church Academy Schools such as the one we will have in Cheltenham in September, the joint RC/Anglican All Saints Academy, it is only in such schools that the Christian presence in education will be conscientiously continued.
If you are with me so far, you might be asking what has this to do with Leonard Cheshire Home?
Yesterday morning I talked about the residents’ school experience, what they most remembered about school and the teachers. I was surprised that all bar one had been to a school with a strong Christian influence – St Rose’s Convent school in Stroud being the nearest- where Emma Cormack went. We had some fun talking about school memories, about teachers and the things they did that have stuck in our minds and the things the students did that nearly got them expelled. But everyone of them agreed that what they got out of being in a religious foundation school, was how people were taught to behave towards others, with respect and courtesy, treating others as you wanted to be treated and being reminded of the part that God could play in our lives if only we let him. Not all the residents by any means have maintained that adherence to what they were taught, but the foundations have been laid and the fact that they come to Mass, even if just to ‘listen to the stories,’ fills me with hope, and a challenge. Their teachers, according to the grace of God given to them, like skilled master builders laid the foundation, and someone else – me and countless christian teachers and parents and grandparents throughout the land, with God’s help, are building on it. Pray for them all in the challenging task that they face in an ever growing climate of can’t see so won’t believe, and thank God for those parents, teachers, friends and clergy who laid the foundation that has brought here today. Amen.