Chapel: A time for exploring hard questions

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Students value the opportunity to anonymously ask important and difficult life questions in the context of worship.This innovation profile was contributed by the Rev’d Mary-Anne Rulfs, Chaplain at Coomera Anglican College on the Gold Coast.

What was the need or challenge being addressed?

At Coomera Anglican College, our Junior Secondary students have Worship fortnightly, and our Senior Secondary students (Years 10-12) have Worship weekly. This provides an opportunity on alternate weeks to shape Worship around the specific needs of our senior students, like the need to foster deep thinking and identify life’s important questions as a prerequisite for contextualising answers.

“The important thing is to not stop questioning.” Albert Einstein .

To this end, one week a panel responded to students’ questions during Worship in lieu of a reflection, bookended by prayer and a Worship song.

What was the response to the need? 

Through our Daily Notices I invited senior students to submit any question they would like addressed in Worship the following week.  This was an unfamiliar request and I was not inundated with responses … until a few days before Worship when these questions were submitted:

  1. By American law, God could be charged for Entrapment, which is where a person(s) is enticed to do something illegal, without prior warning. Trust does not count as prior warning. This can be seen in God placing the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden. What do you think of this?
  2. Do you think God can judge humans if the Ten Commandments are not a legal document, without having any way of enforcing said commandments or any persons signing that they agree with the commandments?
  3. How can you prove God exists?
  4. Should we forgive Hitler?

The panel? Our Principal, Dr Mark Sly (Mark has a Grad Cert in Theology), Rev’d Stephen Hooper, Associate Priest from our parish of Gold Coast North (Stephen’s background being law, mediation and inter-faith dialogue), and me, the College Chaplain.

Raised hands in class of university

 What was impact? 

Each panel member prepared (excellent!) responses to the first three questions. The fourth question was acknowledged and held over to a future Worship when the theme of forgiveness could be explored more fully.

The students appreciated the respect with which the questions were addressed as well as the considered responses offered. Time was limited and Mark and Stephen offered very comprehensive responses, so I served mostly as a facilitator. This opportunity for our Principal to address the students with theological insight and rigour, and for our Priest to speak from a legal and humanitarian perspective, offered Mark and Stephen some heightened credibility amongst students (and perhaps staff) by having an informed voice that extended  beyond their respective professional role. They modelled deep thinking.

 What were the greatest challenges or issues faced?

The first challenge was the general cultural dearth of deep thinking regarding life and faith,   compounded at Coomera by a long hiatus when the College was without a full-time Chaplain. Students were reluctant initially to pose questions. Engaging teachers to encourage students to form and submit questions was helpful.

Secondly, as time was short in Worship, opportunity wasn’t given for students to seek clarification or development of particular points made. Next term our Q&A will provide that opportunity. That panel will again include Dr Sly, as well as a lecturer from St Francis Theological College in Brisbane and Stephen Harrison, the Director of Mission for the ASC in Brisbane. I’m hoping this will build the students’ appreciation for Dr Sly’s theological understanding, as well as provide a link to the resources of Brisbane’s theological college for our College community.

The prayer we used in closing:

God, who knows and loves us,

Encourage us as we search for a deeper knowledge of you.

Calm us as we search for you in silence.

Enthuse us as we search for greater appreciation of creation.

Guide us as we search for freedom to pray.

Unite us as we work for justice in our world.

Free us to tell the good news of your love. Amen

Experiri presents stories of innovation in school ministry from Australia and beyond. Each profiles highlights  innovative strategies that have been developed in response to challenges or emerging issues for chaplains or others in Anglican Schools, including Heads and Religious Educators. 

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