I’m conflicted about this whole School Chaplains thing. Yes I’m an atheist, but I am also the child of a School Chaplain. I know anecdata =/= data, and a sample of one isn’t representative but I think my Mum does an important job. Now she is pretty special, not only is she a Christian, she is also a retired school teacher so she knows the ins and outs of schools and dealing with kids. On top of that she has done lots of child protection courses, and updates those skills regularly because it is required as part of her school chaplaincy. Since she is my Mum I trust her when she says she’s not there to preach to the kids. She doesn’t preach to me either. She is one of those lovely people who is content in their own beliefs, happy to discuss them, but doesn’t bring them up out of nowhere either.
So I’m going to bust a few myths here about the School Chaplains scheme. (relevant for NSW at least)
1. They are not there to convert kids. If your school chaplain is doing this, they’re doin it rong and you should report them.
2. They don’t all get paid, some are volunteers.
3. If they do get paid (and it’s a token amount) then the Church they come from has to pay 50% of the cost.
4. Schools aren’t obliged to have them, most schools ask for them.
5. Chaplains don’t act as school counsellors, they aren’t replacing them, the money didn’t come from the budget that funds school counsellors.
Now I’m going to indulge in some anecdotes that she has shared with me. I should point out that she never mentions any names.
Anecdote 1: A student asked her why she was a school chaplain and she replied because she wanted to let people know that Jesus loved them. “He doesn’t love me” this child scoffed “nobody loves me”. She told him Jesus does. He was sceptical. She told him it was true. He said no one had ever said they loved him before. Then he said he still wasn’t going to become a Christian. She said that was all right Jesus loved him anyway. “Huh?!”, he said then walked away. So even if this kid still doesn’t believe, he knows that my Mum thinks he is worth loving. That’s got to be worth something.
Anecdote 2: A student told her that his father doesn’t believe in God and won’t let him learn about religion. She offered him some pamphlets to look at at school if he liked. She told him he didn’t have to take them home, because he was worried that his Dad would rip them up, and that she was always happy to talk to his Dad if he wanted to discuss what was happening with the school chaplaincy program. The student didn’t take the pamphlets, and she told him that was fine and that she was always around if he wanted to talk or ask questions. He often comes back and says “Dad said…” and they discuss that. She is always careful never to dismiss or criticise his Dad, just to give an alternate point of view.
My Mum just goes around the playground greeting the kids by name and asking them how their day is going. Sometimes when you are a teenager just having someone who doesn’t have to remember your name remember your name can make you feel special. She doesn’t try to counsel the students, she tells them to speak to the School Counsellor if they need help and she tells them that they aren’t going to bother people by asking for help. She is a friendly face, always happy to talk, who loves them for who they are. She is my Mum and she is fucking awesome.
Now if only we could ensure all school chaplains were like my Mum I think we’d be right. But I know that not all School Chaplains are like this. That’s why I’m conflicted.