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ENGLAND: Rid Church schools of Christianity: Parents' campaign extends to removing crosses, Bibles and clergy

ENGLAND: Rid Church schools of Christianity: Parents' campaign extends to removing crosses, Bibles and clergy

By Harry Farley JOURNALIST
October 19, 2017

A widespread campaign to rid Church schools of Christianity is under way, according to local clergy near where a school was forced to ban a Christian group from taking lessons or assemblies.

St John's Church of England Primary School in Tunbridge Wells agreed to block CrossTeach, a Christian charity, after complaints from a number of parents who said children were being told 'men can't marry men' and 'they would not go to a good place when they died' if they did not believe in God.

Headteacher Dan Turvey also criticised the parents' 'campaign' to ban CrossTeach, and appeared reluctant when he said he would ban the group.

But the orchestrated campaign goes further and demands the removal of crosses, Bibles and even the banning of Church of England clergy from Church of England school assemblies, according to local clergy in Tunbridge Wells.

A 13-page briefing document circulated by concerned parents to raise support and seen by Christian Today includes criticism of a 'large cross' at a worship area in the school and specifically demands Jono Chalklin, the youth leader at local St John's Church, not take any more assemblies.

The pamphlet, written by the St John's Concerned Parents group, cites Twitter posts by Chalklin unrelated to his work at the school as 'evidence' of his unsuitability. Among them is a retweet of a post quoting lines from William Cowper's hymn, 'There is a fountain filled with blood'. It demands the headteacher remove any links to groups with 'an evangelistic agenda'.

Rev Peter Sanlon from the nearby St Mark's Church and Rev Giles Walter of the school's affiliated St John's Church, who has been taking assemblies there for 24 years, accused parents of launching a 'hand-grenade' into a happy environment and said it was they who were 'extremist', not the Christian teaching in the school.

Sanlon told Christian Today the parents' 'bullying tactics' would never have been tolerated against a minority group other than Christians and 'have intimidated and victimised other parents and school staff'.

He went on to attack the Diocese of Rochester for failing to stand up for the school after the director of education thanked parents for raising concerns around CrossTeach but offered no defence.

'We are witnessing the impotence of England's great institutions,' he told Christian Today.

'This is no playground squabble, it is the car crash of England's great institutions as they are revealed to be unable to uphold their own convictions or heritage.

'The pressure group are complaining about clergy and the Diocese of Rochester Collective Worship programme - but the Church of England has thus far struggled to defend itself publicly. The pressure group are using the governments's PREVENT Strategy and undefined "British Values" to portray mainstream Christianity as extremist. This is precisely what the government was warned would happen.

'This dispute in Tunbridge Wells is highlighting the inability of both our government and the Church of England to effectively preserve freedom of religion and diversity. As the bullies are allowed to have their way, all suffer.'

It comes after John Constanti, the interim director of Rochester Diocesan Board of Education, said: 'The Government is clear that schools should ensure that the content of any assembly or act of collective worship should be appropriate for the pupils who are taking part, and that it should allow for pupils who are not part of Christian families to join in. The Diocese of Rochester is committed to this principle and works closely with schools to ensure that religious education and collective worship are engaging, respectful and useful to students in helping them to live in a diverse society -- we will continue to do this across all of our schools.

He added: 'We are grateful to parents for raising this issue with the school. Church of England primary schools seek to offer a broad education to children and young people, while always being respectful of the diversity of pupils' cultures and beliefs.'

Walter, who leads the primary school's linked church, also hit back at the parents saying he had never been asked to 'withdraw, or apologise for, anything' he had said or done at the school until now.

'The behaviour of this small group of parents has hurled a hand grenade into a previously happy and harmonious environment. They seem determined to drive mainstream Christian teaching out of our church school: and it is they and not ourselves who should be charged with extremism and non-inclusiveness,' he said in a statement to Kent Live.

The national director of CrossTeach, Wayne Harris, agreed the issue was wider than just the charity's teaching and said the parents' complaints relate to comments made by other people not involved with CrossTeach.

He told Christian Today the campaign was part of a wider campaign against Christianity rather than just his charity.

'Some of the things that have been mentioned have all been attributed to us but they do not all come from activities we have done,' he said.

'They have bunched them all together.'

Christian Today has contacted the St John's Concerned Parents group for comment.


Church of England school headteacher brands Crossteach educational charity 'extremist'

Oct. 19, 2017

Dan Turvey B.Ed (Hons) NPQH is headteacher of St John's Church of England Primary School in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent. "Christian values are at the heart of all we do and our Christian ethos is very strong," he writes in his website welcome. Looking at their vibrant Gallery page, they appear to do lots of edifying Christian things, like 'Easter Prayer Stations', 'Tudor Day' (jolly good), carol concerts and Harvest Festival in St John's Church, with which the school has strong links.

For 16 years, the school has been graciously assisted by Crossteach, a Christian charitable organisation which seeks to represent the historical Christian faith in a school setting. They are "Christian Schools Workers, partnering with local Christian communities to enable young people in schools to critically engage with the Christian faith in a fun and relevant way"...

So they do things like taking assemblies (the statutory 'Daily Act of Collective Worship') and helping out with RE lessons (because, frankly, it is a woefully neglected subject in the curriculum, very often palmed off to under-employed geography or PE teachers who just happen to be Christian/Muslim/Jedi-inclined). Crossteach is exactly the sort of professional and ethical charitable outfit with which a lot of schools would love to work, particularly with that (often) awkward Daily Act of Collective Mind-Numbing Banality Which Passes for Worship.

But a group of parents at St John's Church of England Primary School weren't happy with Christians coming in and talking about sin and Jesus and judgment and men and women getting married -- you know, some of that basic Christian stuff which Dan Turvey says is at the heart of all they do because their Christian ethos is very strong. These parents objected to such "extremist beliefs", and say Crossteach had been "upsetting children with a fundamentalist approach".

Mr Turvey was a bit irritated by this, responding: "I do not believe CrossTeach has done anything wrong." He added: "They do not deserve the tarnishing of their good name and allegations of extremism that have taken place over the last few months."

So what does he do?

Robustly defend the Crossteach commitment to Christian orthodoxy?

Thank them for their 16 years of loyal and faithful service to his school, which is, after all, a church school?

Bless them for enabling hundreds of young people to critically engage with the Christian faith in a fun and relevant way?

Send the zealous complaining parents packing with fleas in their ears?

No, none of that: "After careful consideration I have decided that we will end our regular commitment to CrossTeach and that they will no longer lead assemblies or take lessons, he writes to the parents. "I have taken this action as I hope to bring an end this campaign and allow us to move on."

And thereby he attests to the veracity of the parents' complaint about 'hate' and 'extremism', pronouncing Crossteach unfit to lead school assemblies, and inadequate to assist with RE lessons. It's a wonderful Christian witness for a church school -- is it not? -- when the party which is judged to have done no wrong has its good name tarnished by a supine headteacher who publicly condemns the group by banning them from leading assemblies and taking RE lessons (they are still permitted to lead optional after-school clubs "for those children and parents who wish to carry on", which is very Christian of him).

Crossteach national director, Wayne Harris, has issued a statement:

Crossteach often works in partnership with local churches and reflects their teaching, always aiming to be sensitive to the local context, and recognising that churches vary. Crossteach always works within the policies and guidelines of each school, and these sometimes vary from school to school. There is usually a member of the school teaching staff present at every Crossteach activity and in 16 years of working in schools no teacher has ever raised with Crossteach a concern that something that has been said could be interpreted as in any way 'hateful' or 'extremist'.

What a pity that Dan Turvey B.Ed NPQH fundamentally failed a rather important test of church school leadership, just "to bring an end this campaign and allow us to move on". Unfortunately he has ensured that it will run, and run, and run.

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