by Tim Novis.
As the Senior Chaplain at Wellington College, I am responsible for ensuring that worship is meaningful and relevant for the students, over a thousand in number, who enter the Chapel on a weekly basis. The most obvious expectation in an independent school, often driven by impressive fees, is that whatever we offer it must be of the highest quality.
The question must be asked, what then must worship look like in the independent sector, where chapel attendance is mandatory, yet where those who attend are not by any means strict adherents of any one particular faith or religion; although most select ‘Church of England’ as at least their affiliation on entrance applications.
How then can we achieve this goal with integrity, and not simply resort to ‘plug and play’ liturgies that are really just indoctrination and the mumbling back of hollow responses printed in a booklet or merely the gusty rugby pitch style singing of 18th century hymns that are remotely patriotic with little to nothing to do with the interior life?
I am beginning qualitative, evidence-based research into what 21st century, mandated, adolescent, public worship should be, to ensure that the full benefits of spiritual wellbeing are realised within the institutional setting.
Utilising focus-group research and case studies, I also wish to trace the life stories of groups of pupils over a 3 year period of ‘exposure’ to chapel attendance.
Further, what spaces within an independent schools does spirituality inhabit? Within the liminal, epistemological, temporal and physical realms, where does spirituality offer an impact upon the wellbeing of students? What affect does it have and how can we measure this, to capture what we should be offering more of, and what we should be letting go of as archaic?
In regard to wellbeing, in a webpage entitled, ‘Spirituality and Mental Health,’ from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the question is asked:
‘What difference can spirituality make?
Service users tell us that they have gained:
•better self-control, self-esteem and confidence
•faster and easier recovery (often through healthy grieving of losses and through recognising their strengths)
•better relationships – with self, others and with God/creation/nature
•a new sense of meaning, hope and peace of mind. This has allowed them to accept and live with continuing problems.’
Worship, or liturgy, is literally the ‘work of the people’. We need also to ask and answer, ‘what works for people’, if we take as truth that spirituality is a crucial component in any successful program of education. The Wellington College Chapel will become a ‘liturgical laboratory’ where research with a lofty end in mind will be completed.