School Chaplains, now there's a title to titillate if ever there was one. In my day a school chaplain was strictly for the public schools sector (sorry, those hailing from North America, can't explain, just think reverse terminology of your system).
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The phrase conjures up images of sixth form cads such as Flashman and Barber with their little fags (don't go there America) called Valero Minor and Ivereigh Minimus.
Now it appears, all Catholic Secondary Schools are encouraged to have a chaplain, at least that is what I assume from reading the Westminster Diocese website.
Well, good and well done and, even, huzzah. I think that is fine and admirable.
But...now you were expecting a 'but' were you not?
But...what sort of priest is appointed to be a chaplain to a London Secondary School with 1800 students on its register?
Oh, shock, horror, the postholder does not have to be a priest.
OK, (I think), I can live with that but it would have to be on the proviso that the lay appointee had a suitable CV covering a generous helping of religious education experience and qualifications plus, ideally, a background in commerce to provide that all important aspect of being in touch with the real world. I am sure that is as straight as I can put it and who would gainsay that?
Put it another way, I quite fancy such a post, there is a dire need for it in this (West Wales) part of the world.
So what do you think should be the duties of a chaplain? I've only got a scanty idea, I could be miles apart from reality but here's my stab at the job description:
Counselling? .....well, maybe...not too sure about this. You see I have operated many training programmes for counsellors and I quickly came to the conclusion that most of the poor souls on the course were in dire need of counselling themselves. They all, or nearly all, had massive emotional and psychological hang-ups.
I am sure that careful counselling of the right kind could be a good thing for young people but there is rather too much psycho babble out there for my peace of mind.
For me, counselling young people would have to be a very closely monitored process...and therein lies the rub because all counselling has to be confidential - not easy that one!
Bullying issues - now I am sure that a chaplain could play a good role here. There is much to be done to develop the right sort of ethos and strategies to stamp out unacceptable behaviour.
How about leading the school in prayer, say at assembly? Or, organising religious visits that might possibly link in with the National Curriculum? Not bad, not bad.
And then there could be RE although, I am uncertain as to how secondary schools, even Catholic ones, are timetabled for this subject.
Well, I could go on and, no doubt some of you may have some excellent suggestions to make but what we arrive at is that this post is not just a job for someone with a few hours free each week.
This is a vital role. It demands some professionalism, some degree of teaching competence as well as inter personal skills and experience.
So I was somewhat surprised to be told of a well known school that has a chaplain (approved of by the authorities) who is (wait for it) twenty four years old.
Now I am attempting to be as charitable as is humanly possible but a 24 year old chaplain is stretching things a tad. He may be a wonderful person, an outstanding scholar, an erudite bloke - but has he got what it takes to speak to boys from the age of eleven to sixteen and to advise and guide them?
He certainly knows now't about Summorum Pontificum or the recognition enjoyed by the SSPX but that is not the end of the world.
The issue is, does he know the catechism?
And just in case you think that I am being ageist - you are correct!
And, as an extra point of mild interest, both the Cardinal Vaughan and London Oratory Schools have chaplains and they are both priests.