LETTER: Perspective from school play

St Richard’s Catholic Primary School, Chichester. Key Stage 2 Nativity Play.

Reviewed 15/12/15.

I don’t believe there is a God.

That’s not to say I cannot appreciate the value of religion or a faith school education. Both my children attend St Richard’s school every week and church every Sunday and I believe they are richer for it. In everything they say and do there is continuous evidence of their sense of belonging to a family much wider than a biological one. They feel others’ pain, celebrate others’ joys and hope for others’ successes.

That’s not to decry a secular upbringing. I had one and believe I am more than capable of empathy, compassion and love. Of course you’d have to ask my family and friends for more concrete assurances, but I’m quietly confidence they’d back up my claim. But I think there is an in-built communal moral fabric to faith school communities. This fabric can help young people feel safe and assured. In my experience, such community characteristics contribute to a strong bedrock for learning. Because when we feel safe, we open our minds more readily.

So I walked into church this evening to bear witness to the Key Stage 2 Christmas offering for 2015. I know I’m not going to sing any songs or say any prayers, even if invited to. But I do feel safe in the knowledge that if I open my mind to it, I might learn something new. And I did.

Going under the title of “A Journey”, this well trodden story plays out in two worlds. The one of Judea, 2000 years ago, and the one of our current refugee crisis stretched out across our national borders, from Syria and Eritrea to France and Britain; and beyond. A Syrian couple, with baby on the way, are taking a treacherous journey into the unknown just when they should be leaning on the support of people at home. But they have no choice. They have to move. Meanwhile, a Palestinian couple are undergoing a shorter, albeit similar journey, through the desert.

For those of you who weren’t at the play, I’m sure you get the picture. I don’t need to elaborate on the story parallels. But it was performed with care and poise. These kids got it.

It was clear they had been asked to think about it, write their lines and speak out to their audience with passion and conscience. Every single one of them should be applauded. Not only did they recount a commonly told story, they did so with much heart. They had learned something meaningful and wanted to impart it to others. To me, that is good education.

As a result, I walked out of a church that means little to me with a feeling of warmth and humanity. As trite as it sounds, I had been reminded what Christmas is meant to be about. I wandered into the school hall with a smile, ready to join fellow parents in a heartfelt appreciation of what our kids had just achieved.

It was in this school hall that my Christmas bubble burst.

I learned from a couple of people that plans to temporarily house refugee families in empty accommodation in Earnley, whilst they await their application for asylum, had been scrapped due to overwhelming opposition from local parishes. No room at the inn.

When I got home I looked up the definition of the word ‘parish’ in the dictionary. It’s a small administrative district typically having its own church and a priest or pastor. So apparently it’s a place of God. Well, I’ve driven through Earnley. It’s incredibly pretty. There are some beautiful houses. Is it in one of these where ‘God’ lives? Outside many of these houses are some beautiful cars. Is this how ‘God’ gets about? Given that few, if any, voices of compassion spoke out from the local community, I assume not.

But it’s unfair to pin our collective lack of compassion entirely on Earnley. If I am right in the assertion that when we feel safe we are more ready to open our minds, the reverse must also be true. The more scared we feel, the more closed-minded we become. But this does seem to be a trait more commonly associated with adulthood. Sitting here, in front of my computer, I’m struck by how often we righteous seniors roll out platitudes of, “isn’t it awful?” and “something has to be done” and “if that was me and my family…”. But most of us don’t really mean it. We might mean well, but we don’t mean it. When it arrives on our doorstep, our sense of belonging to a wider family quickly abandons us. We care more for what we have than we do the plight of others. Maybe it’s the curse of accumulating too much stuff.

A line in the play, written by one of the children, was cited again by the head teacher at the end. It went something like (and forgive me if I don’t get it exactly right), “People have to leave the place where they should have everything to go to a place where they have nothing. But there is something. There is God.”

Well, as already stated, I don’t believe there is a God. But I do know humans are real. And after this evening, it seems evident that humanity dwells more comfortably in the hearts and minds of children than it does adults. Maybe it’s time we put the kids in charge and sent the rest of us back to school.

I want to say a big thank you to all the Key Stage 2 children of St Richard’s Primary School.

Thank you for your care, compassion and heavy dose of perspective just when it was needed.

Brett Marshall

North Mundham