Anglican Schools – Poets of Paradox

Anglican Schools with their comprehensive and robust view of what it means to be human, in communion with the Triune God of grace and in the world, uniquely but not exclusively seek to hold the different spheres of life together often in tension and practice paradox with wisdom and creativity.


36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40


 a belief contrary to received opinion

a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

Merriam Webster Dictionary


In a recent post on ‘a place for mission’.

Stephen Harrison characteristically asked some interesting questions…


What is the unique contribution the Anglican Church makes to education through its schools?

or to ask another way

What would be lost if the Anglican Church decided not to have schools?


The topography of education in Australia is difficult to comprehend but not without cause for celebration, full of loud polarities but not without quiet voices of wisdom, diverse but deeply fragmented, stretched into incoherency but still open to inquiry.

In short, the educational landscape is a difficult terrain to navigate and shallow diagnoses and quick remedies will not do. Schools in the Anglican tradition share this mysterious pedagogical terrain but not without a story to tell.

Anglican Schools as poets of paradox

In her thoughtful book The Courage Way Shelly Francis of the Center for Courage & Renewal tells the story of interviewing 120 leaders in education and identified the ability to ‘practice paradox’ as a vital ingredient of courageous leaders and communities.

“We can learn to practice paradox by recognizing that the polarities that come with being human (life and death, love and loss) are “both-ands” rather than “either-ors.” We can learn to let those tensions hold us in ways that stretch our hearts and minds open to new insights and possibilities”

The Center for Courage & Renewal & Shelly L. Francis. “The Courage Way.”, 52.

Anglican Schools with their comprehensive and robust view of what it means to be human, in communion with the Triune God of grace and in the world, uniquely but not exclusively seek to hold the different spheres of life together often in tension and practice paradox with wisdom and creativity.

Holding paradox invites people down the portal both below and above the cultural polarities of (either-ors) and asks us to go deeper and beyond. The intentional practice of paradox is a kind of poetry in community that awakens us to retrieve old truths in and through the ordinariness of our shared life. As Wendell Berry writes in ‘How to be poet’,

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

The claims of Jesus Christ and the Christian life are richly paradoxical. God is both three and one, Jesus is both God and human, Jesus freely gave up his life so that others may gain life, what seemed as his greatest shame at the Cross was his greatest victory, he taught that those unjustly accused in his name will be justified, he called his disciples to be in the world but not of the world, the first shall be last – the list goes on and on…

Many Anglican Schools have long practiced paradox by being both distinctively Anglican in their identity and open to those of other faiths or no faith. The sceptic may look to politics or economics for the and but Anglicans broadly commend a theology of faithful presence which invites all people to witness and engage in the way of Christ.

Anglican Schools as poets of paradox are not content ‘middle grounders’ for the middle class but seek to hold apparent tensions creatively and in a life-giving way. They can poetically find truth and wholeness in holding together both the individual and community, solitude and service, joy and suffering, grace and works, reason and emotion, truth and mystery, body and soul, blessedness and meekness, local and global, the now and not yet, sinner and saint!

As the recipient of the Bishop Barbara Darling professional development grant for chaplaincy in Melbourne I will have the privilege in June of learning firsthand about the intentional work of Duke Chapel at Duke University in living out their vision of being a beacon of Christian hope in bridging faith and learning. The Duke Chapel which is a rather Cathedral like presence has become a central learning hub in the community, a place to gather and be sent with courage and compassion. I have long admired the work of Duke Chapel and Duke Divinity School in seeking to be a faithful presence and holding paradox in a generous way to their community.

In my own context as the Head of Chaplaincy at Caulfield Grammar School in suburban Melbourne I long to see the walls of either/ors replaced by transparent conversations of both/ands enabling the fullness of the gospel to infuse our life together. Such collaboration has sometimes come from staff and students awakened to see possibilities of wholehearted engagement in chapel spaces or other shared gatherings.

Pilgrims, Activists and Artists

One such example was a questioning Year 11 student who was unsatisfied with cultural polemic between the visual arts, science and faith. His response was to host the Art of Science Exhibition in the Campus Chapel. The Art of Science Exhibition includes stunning images that have been captured and created by Institute scientists in the course of their research atThe Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia’s oldest medical research institute. The exhibition was a stunning example of the Anglican School being a poet of paradox and inviting apparent tensions to reveal deeper conversations.

An ongoing conversation regarding the role of chaplains in our schools is “should a chaplain teach?” Again, another good question raised by Stephen Harrison in ‘a place for mission.’ In my own context in Melbourne it is often assumed that the chaplain should occupy the role of both chaplain and teacher (there a few exceptions). This has been framed by some as enabling credibility with the community. This framing may have some merit but I find the opportunity to occupy and converge multiple learning spaces enables me to practice paradox with creativity and authenticity. Whilst new ideas are slowly being explored in our schools regarding the identity of chaplains, such as being a community leader, a fresh imagination is also needed in how we teach and infuse faith across disciplines.

In Philip Yancey sequel’s to ‘What’s so Amazing about grace?’ called ‘Vanishing Grace – what ever happened to the good news?’ he shares a conversation he had with a friend who remarked ‘There are three kinds of Christians that outsiders to the faith still respect. The pilgrims (those who present themselves as fellow pilgrims seeking to learn and find their way). The activists (who express their faith in the most expressive way – by their deeds). The artists (those who speak with authenticity and skill to the human condition).

Anglican Schools as poets of paradox uniquely make space for pilgrims, activists and artists and reveal to the world the way of Christ in a fragmented world

[This article first appears in ASA Newsletter April 2018]

Ryan Holt Written by:

Ryan is the Head of Chaplaincy at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne, Adjunct Lecturer in Chaplaincy at Ridley College and is currently completing a doctorate with the Australian College of Theology, exploring the culture of service in Anglican schools today.

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