Matthew Went to Pialba State School

Pialba State School has a chaplain.  He made a post on their web site.  Let’s read it.

Hi! My name is Matthew Went and I am your School Chaplain.

Hello Matthew.  The first step is admitting you have a problem.  Well done.

Primarily my role in the school is to promote well-being and spirituality.

Since I am a poor uneducated atheist who must have lacked sufficient contact with his private school chaplain, you will need to define exactly what “spirituality” actually means for me.  So far as I can tell, it is a meaningless term which would be indistinguishable from “emotional” if it weren’t for the religious overtones it carries.

My beliefs and values are based and founded upon a Christian perspective.

I am happy for you.  However, I hope your personally held religious beliefs do not intrude into your role as school chaplain.  If this were the case you would be violating item 9 of the “Code of Conduct for school chaplains” which all school chaplains are required to sign:

“… a chaplain should not take advantage of his or her privileged position to proselytise for that denomination or religious belief.”

I would not like to see you forced to chose between your faith and your job.

Moving on.

In 2007, the Australian Government responded to the call that the services of a School Chaplain be made more broadly available with the introduction of the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP).

John Howard launched the NSCP in 2006.

The NSCP is designed to assist schools and their communities to support the spiritual wellbeing of their students and complements any existing services in schools, such as counsellors, youth workers, and social workers.

I suppose once all the useful services have been provided by counsellors, youth workers, and social workers then the only services remaining are the useless one.  Enter chaplains.  Perhaps I am being too harsh, but it’s difficult to judge since I have no idea what “promote well-being and spirituality” actually means, or why only religious people must be hired (against section 116 of the Australian Constituion) to perform these tasks.

Furthermore, since the NSCP prevents religious people from being religious, and people like Tim Mander (CEO of Scripture Union Queensland) tellls us the mantra of school chaplains is “refer, refer, refer”, I confused why only religious people can perform this apparetly critically duty.

However, there are also clear differences between the NSCP and existing services, including the voluntary nature of the school chaplaincy service and the focus on spiritual and religious advice, support and guidance.

Why is our government committed $220 million on a voluntary program?  According to the Department’s own web site, schools are awarded $20,000 per year for 3 years to provide a chaplain.  This seems a long way off a voluntary position, especially if chaplains are able to provide services to 2 or 3 schools in their area.

Funded through the NSCP, I am employed part-time by Scripture Union Queensland (SU Qld). Working in a state school, I hold a “blue card” and follow and uphold NSCP, Education Qld and SU Qld policies and practices, and code of conduct.

I fail to see how anyone could simultaneously achieve these goals given Scripture Union’s aims and beliefs, which state:

Working with the churches, Scripture Union aims:

a) to make God’s Good News known to children, young people and families

and

b) to encourage people of all ages to meet God daily through the Bible and prayer so that they may come to personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, grow in Christian maturity and become both committed church members and servants of a world in need.

So tell me, Matthew – how does one “make God’s Good News known to children, young people and families” while “not take advantage of his or her privileged position to proselytise for that denomination or religious belief”?  This seems to be a blatent contradiction from the outset.

I participate in many of the general activities in the life of our school (such as “hanging out” with the children during both breaks, occasionally helping out in classrooms, participating in assemblies, speech nights, sports days, school committees, school camps, special programs and/or events, coordinate our school’s care group, etc.).

Given Australia’s economy has experienced significant “negative growth” in the last quarter, I am not convinced spending $220 million to supply people for kids to “hang out with” is the best investment.  Furthermore, exactly why are religious people required to participating in assemblies, speech nights, sports days, school committees, and school camps – especially when they are barred from being religious?  Which services do those who profess a belief in the predominate deity of our society able to deliver that those who adhere to Christian views, minority religions, or those without religious belief, cannot?

I provide pastoral care, practical assistance, life skills, relate with local churches in Hervey Bay, engage in community networking, and so on.

In addition to holding a “blue card”, I hope you hold relevant qualifications to provide “life skills” to the children you’re dealing with.  To do otherwise would admit you have gained a privileged position over those who are properly qualified, yet exempt from chaplaincy positions due to their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.  Do you think it’s a Christian value to exclude minority Christian views, the views of other religions, and the views of agnostics, atheists, humanists, and rationalists?  Because this is preciously what is happening under the NSCP.

From time to time, in consultation with the School Principal and SU Qld, I may introduce a program or advertise an upcoming event. Consent forms will be provided to interested students relating to the program or event. Students who do not return a signed consent form will be unable to participate.

I applaud your use of the opt-in model, perhaps the Victorian Education Department and Access Ministries could take lessons from you regarding how to run a such a revolutionary approach?  Nevertheless, I still have some concerns: What is the general expectation of students regarding these extracurricular events? How are the students who do not attend treated?  I am not suggesting these are real problems at Pialba State School, but we have seen similar situations cause problems with Special Religious Education, and I do not see much differentiation between the two overtly religious streams running through public schools.

Although I am an active member of the Bayside Christian Church, I am sensitive to and respectful of people who hold beliefs and values that are different from my own.

It’s a pity our government is not as sensitive as you are to the beliefs of people who hold different beliefs and values to those of the majority.  This is the essence of a secular society – equality for all regardless of your sex, skin colour, or religious affiliation.  Currently the NSCP only allows non-religious people to be considered if “all other avenues to hire suitable [religious] people have been exhausted”.  This is blatently discriminatory and unAustralian.

I am available to all students, teachers and staff, and parents/guardians within my school community. Respectfully, I look forward to meeting with you and your family, at your discretion.

Thanks, but I recommend students, teachers, staff, parents, and guardians find good friends to “hang out” with, and seek professional help from properly qualified individuals if it is required.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Everyone has the right to a private conversation with the School Chaplain.

However, in cases of illegal activity, actual harm or abuse, or potential harm or abuse, the Chaplain is required to practice responsible confidentiality by reporting these cases to relevant people (e.g. the School Principal).

Note here that the chaplain is unable to actually help in these instances.  They are forced to “report these cases to relevant people”.  Again, why are religious people considered the only ones capable of performing these tasks?  The implict implication is that non-religious people are incapable of listening to students, or are unable to recognise students in trouble.  This is a hideous view which all Australians should recoil from.

This is in the best interest and care of student/s and other members of the school community. (This is Education Qld and SU Qld policy).

What is in the best interest of students and other members of the school community is to provide professionally qualified people who can actually help children, rather that unqualified religious people employed by evangelical organisations who seek to “make God’s Good News known to children, young people and families.”

Matthew Went

School Chaplain

For more information regarding the National School Chaplaincy Program, please visit our campaign page.

Posted June 1, 2011
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