As the result of receiving a professional development grant given in memory of one of our Melbourne Bishops I was fortunate to be able to attend the biennial NAES Conference in San Antonio, Texas in November last year[i].
The conference takes place every two years and is the major gathering of the NAES with over five hundred delegates attending. The program is structured around a keynote address and a series of workshops.
Attending the conference was a wonderful experience and I learnt so much from being there. If I was to summarise my key takeaways from the conference they would take the form of two questions
1: How to nurture and encourage Anglican identity formation by comparing and contrasting Episcopal Schools in the United States with Anglican Schools in Australia?
Australia has around 155 Anglican schools that educate around 155,000 students. A quick back of the envelope calculation suggests that on average Anglican schools have around 1000 students per school. There are 15,000 staff working Anglican schools (1 to 10 staff student ratio).
The United States has 1,200 Episcopal schools educating 160,000 students (133 students per school on average). There are 28,500 staff working in Episcopal schools (1 to 5 staff student ratio).
While there are more than a thousand Episcopal schools compared to Anglican schools they educate only five thousand more students than we do here in Australia. Anglican schools are on average a whole lot larger than Episcopal schools.
The NAES estimates that around 25% of students in Episcopal schools are Episcopalians. With many Anglican schools the percentage of Anglicans it would be lower (11% of students at my school identify as Anglican).
Student numbers can make for considerable difference when considering questions of Anglican identity formation. Being smaller in size means it is easier to gather the whole school together and to meet as a whole school much more frequently. Chapel is part of the daily rhythm of a number of Episcopal Schools rather than the weekly rhythm of many Anglican schools.
Greater frequency of chapel means more chapel presentations. A number of sessions at the conference looked at creative suggestions for what you can do in Chapel. I found these presentations really helpful. As well as observing Christian festivals some Episcopal schools use chapel to celebrate non-Christian religious festivals such as Diwali as a way of connecting with their non-Christian students. Smaller student populations also helps facilitate students having the opportunity to speak at Chapel. A number of Episcopal schools have impressive programs to help students prepare and deliver a Chapel address.
2: How can Anglican schools be more intentional around issues of inclusion?
Inclusion is a given in our Anglican schools. Anglican schools are open to everyone and it is taken for granted that every student will be made welcome and included. Inclusion is such a given that it is often an unstated one. Anglican schools don’t seem to be as structured and intentional around issues of inclusion as Episcopal Schools are.
The NAES devotes a lot of time and energy to ensuring that Episcopal schools are intentional communities when it comes to inclusion. For example they produce a number of statements and guidelines such as the ‘Principals of Good Practice for Equity and Justice in Episcopal Schools’ document and the NAES Statement on Inclusion and Episcopal Identity[ii].
The NAES actively encourage every Episcopal school to have a DEJI (Diversity, Equity, Justice and Inclusion) Officer. Their role is to ensure that being inclusive is the lived reality of the school and the lived experience of every student. A number of conference workshop sessions focused on how the DEJI Officer can work in conjunction with the chaplain drawing on Episcopal language and values to help make their schools more inclusive places.
When it comes to inclusion there is no disjunction between the attitude of the Episcopal church and the attitude of Episcopal schools. This disjunction is a challenge that we currently face in Australia when it comes to issues of inclusion and human sexuality.
I came away from the conference with the impression that Anglican schools would really benefit from a unified national approach when it comes to inclusion backed up with the kind of supporting statements, guidelines and policies that they have in place in Episcopal schools.
While the costs involved make it challenging for Australians to attend the NAES Conference if you can attend a future conference (the next one is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in November 2024) I am sure you will find it as rich and rewarding learning experience as I did.
[i] The author is grateful for the Melbourne Anglican Diocesan Schools Commission for the provision of the Bishop Barbara Darling Grant and the support of his school, Mentone Grammar, for the opportunity to attend the conference. He is also appreciative of the warm and generous hospitality of the NAES network.