How to Celebrate a School centenary

An approaching school centenary year is daunting for a number of reasons.  As the chaplain in the school, you will “own” a number of key events and you won’t want to let anyone down, especially God.  You will also become aware of all the generations who have a claim on the school history, (from long before your short time on board!), and you won’t want to leave anyone out.  You know that there will be many future years to celebrate the school, but “100” does have a special ring to it. On the other hand, an approaching school centenary year is full of promise.  School life is often messy close up, but, taking a long view you will be struck by the wonderful ways God has guided the school, and how passionately God loves all those who have walked through those school gates.  You will want to find ways to share that joy with God and with each other.

I’m only 6 weeks into the Camberwell Girls Grammar School centenary year, so my remarks are more to do with the planning than the actuality.  Each school will need to find the best path for them, so I offer these thoughts about what has worked for me, hoping they might be helpful and perhaps stimulate thinking.

START EARLY

When the school turns 95, it’s a good time to start thinking about the 100.  Ideas need time to germinate, you need to check how you are going to contact past students, especially those who may not be reading emails, and you need to budget.  Our principal appointed someone to oversee the whole year, and we had some meetings (not too many) with key people to start planning.

READ YOUR SCHOOL HISTORY & CONNECT WITH YOUR ARCHIVES

My principal gave me some time in the year before our centenary to prepare.  This gave me the opportunity to re-read the school history carefully, taking notes about the key people and themes.  This was time well-spent.  It meant my conversation with others in the lead up was much more meaningful.  We are also blessed with an school archivist, and I talked through a number of impressions with her, especially trying to discern the personalities of past principals; their focus and their constraints.

PRAYER

It is possible, in all the busy-ness, to forget to make space for God’s spirit, to be led by God’s spirit. Don’t forget to include God in your thinking and decision-making as chaplain.  Trust that God’s spirit will guide you, and express all your hopes about what the year might be and bring.

DIGNITARIES

Think about how your school fits into the big picture and ask leaders to share with you in the celebration.

  • As an Anglican School, invite your bishop and/or Archbishop to key services and ceremonies.
  • Our school started its life in the local parish; the vicar of that parish is a member of the School Council, but he also represents our 100 year connection with the parish, a relationship that has not faltered in 100 years.
  • We have a relationship with a local indigenous leader.  We asked him to welcome us on to the pocket of land where the school stands.  The moment when he turned and welcomed the Governor, with such grace, and when she responded with such respect was a moment for which I am immensely grateful.
  • The current Governor of Victoria, Her Excellency Linda Dessau is the first female governor of Victoria.  As a girls school, we highly value her work. She is also a graduate of a Melbourne Girls school.  At our Commencement Service, she spoke beautifully to every part of the school community, starting with the 5 year olds.

This is another reason for planning early.  We contacted the Governor’s office 12 months ahead.  Her office was not able to confirm her attendance until about 6 months before, but we were on her radar.  Also factor in having meetings with the Governor’s Aide and getting on top of protocol in the weeks before the event.

LOGISTICS

You will most likely be gathering people together in large numbers, and for one-off, or not very often, events. 

  • Have consistent meetings leading up to the event, and document everything at every point.  It’s the fine tuning that can make such a difference, so don’t let any of these ideas get lost between meetings. 
  • Have a way of updating documents so that you don’t have to keep printing things out. 
  • Walk through and visit venues.  I asked 2 key staff members to come into the city with me to think about where we would “hold” students when arriving for our Cathedral service (we have Cathedral services every 5 years so it’s not within people’s memories).
  • Be ready for school management to be tense before key events.  You will most likely be too!  Carry an air of confidence with you, and do the work that ensures you are actually confidentJ

THE HUMAN TOUCH

Don’t assume everything has to be formal and serious.  We san “Happy Birthday” and had birthday cupcakes for all to share at our Commencement Ceremony.  The students loved it, and so did the dignitaries, and it made room for that ordinary spirit of good cheer to be expressed.

BRIEFING THE STUDENTS

Be aware that just because you have a good grasp of the school history and who the dignitaries are, your students might not.  You don’t want to repeat the same stories over and over again, but some key messages just before an event will help the students engage.  For example, in an assembly before our Commencement Ceremony, our principal talked about the Governor and her role, & also told the students about key people who would be attending.  Afterwards, a number of students checked with me to see if they had identified some of the VIPs they had been told about.

A TIME TO FORMALLY HONOUR PEOPLE

  • Camberwell Girls was started by the first vicar of St Mark’s, Camberwell: the Reverend Hubert Brooksbank.  We have lots of buildings named after key people, but none after him, so we decided to name the School Library in his honour. This also led to seeing if we could make contact with his descendants.  We did, and they had very little idea of what Brooksbank did.  They are now coming to a number of events over the school year, and it’s been a joy to connect with this family.
  • Another event is focused on celebrating past students, with a ceremony designed to name some “inspiring women”.  These women have been chosen through a process of nominating and providing evidence.  Twenty women will be named this year, and names will be added annually from now on.

SUPPORTING THE CREATIVE ARTS STAFF

Think of ways you can support the Music staff and Drama staff, who often carry a big load.

COMMISSION SOMETHING NEW

Our music department commissioned a new version of our School Anthem (not to be confused with the School Hymn).   We have devoted some assemblies to learning it, and it will be sung publicly for the first time at our Founders’ Service in the Cathedral.  This anthem will sit alongside the previous anthem:  some past students are very fond of this previous anthem, but we have found that it was not very singable for more recent students.

A SAMPLE BLESSING

We used this at our Commencement Ceremony, adapted from a centenary blessing I found on-line for a parish church in England!

Centenary Blessing

Pour out your Spirit, Lord, upon Camberwell Girls Grammar School in this centenary year.
With gratitude, we call to mind your blessings in the past.
With confidence, we commend into your hands the possibilities of tomorrow
With hope, we pray that we may serve with humility and joy today.

Renew in us all those gifts of faith and hope and love
that you kindle deep within us.

Fill our minds with your light,
our hearts with your love,
& our actions with your presence,
so that in all we say and do,

and in all that we are,
we may bear faithful witness to your loving-kindness.

Breathe new life into every part of our School,
and let commitment, integrity, respect, courage and hope *
be the marks of our community.

In this special year of celebration and thanksgiving,

May God’s love and hope abound in this place;
so that each member of this community may play their part

in renewing the face of the earth.

And the blessing of God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Be with you, and remain with you, this day and always. Amen

*these are the school values

EVENTS OVER THE YEAR WITH A FAITH FOCUS

  • Whole school commencement service, including bible reading and blessing.
  • Centenary Creative Arts Festival, including a service of Evensong over 3 nights.
  • Founders’ Day Service at the Cathedral
  • Library Naming Ceremony, including bible reading, prayer and blessing
  • Combined Service and Morning tea at the parish church where the school started

Finally, try to avoid a year when there is a coronavirus!  At the time of writing, we have had to post-pone 2 key events.  One has been shifted to Term 4 (for weather reasons) and the other to Term 2, but as we know “all things work together for good”.  Enjoy your centenary year!

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One Comment

  1. March 24, 2020
    Reply

    That’s a very helpful article, Helen. I do hope that you can still have an opportunity to utilise the fruit of your labours later on in the year. Your point on logistics was pertinent, as leading last year’s combined schools service at the Cathedral made me realise just how every minute of the service needs to be thought through and “managed”.

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