Enter the Chaplain! Who is this person? What role is played by the chaplain in the school community? Is there a necessity for this person? Is a chaplain, lay or religious? Likely to force 'religion' down the throats of our young people? What will the chaplain do for my child? Perhaps the chaplain has nothing to do with us anyway?
Your life as parents begins with a little bundle of joy. As the first few years progress from babyhood to early childhood, this tiny infant depends on you totally. The process is one of learning, growing, and developing in an interactive way which affects both the child and parent. In the blink of an eye the first five years fly by and primary school beckons. Even if your child has attended nursery school, there is a tangible change between that and the child's formal education.
The school years
At primary level the change in your child becomes keenly apparent. All you seem to hear from your 'baby' is 'teacher says this' and 'teacher says that'. Suddenly you realise that you are sharing your child with someone else, someone who is also special to the child. Nonetheless, you have to let go and that can be hard. You must remember that this is a time of adventure and development for the child which demands adjustment on your part.
After the quickest eight years of parent/teacher meetings, sales of work, school trips, plays, sports days, first communion and, finally the 'big one', confirmation, you feel prepared for the next step - second level education, another chapter in all your lives. Yet, maybe you are not as ready as you thought. Instead of having just one teacher your child now has seven or eight excluding the guidance counsellor, remedial teacher and, if fortunate enough, the chaplain. Here you have people who are specialists in an array of subjects all mapping out your child's future. However, while all of these people claim a significant role in the life of your child, the chaplain is the one who might well have the most crucial part to play.
For example, the chaplain would have a greater awareness that some teenagers question the need for God in their lives. Many would seriously question institutionalised religion, finding it irrelevant and the liturgical practice of it boring. Religious parents often find their offspring rebelling against church teaching and authority, even to the point of finding attendance at Mass embarrassing because it is something that 'oldies' do. In this context, how many parents can indentify with the favourite modern teenage dictum, 'it's a waste of space'? Where the good chaplain comes in is to meet the young people on their terms. From a position of greater independence and objectivity, the chaplain is sometimes better able to provide the religious guidelines required for a life of faith. This can be very enlightening for a teenager. Yet, while pupils may get used to seeing the chaplain around on a regular basis, the parents, living and working in a different environment, are less likely to be aware of the everyday role of the chaplain.
So what part might the chaplain play at this significant stage of life for both parents and students? Perhaps the most important things is for the chaplain to encourage parents to take a further look at their own development. It might be possible for the chaplain to assist the parents in the discovery of their own hidden, inner abilities. In certain cases, sometimes at an early age, the talents of many parents were set aside or suppressed owing to the demands of parenthood. As a result many parents suffered from a lack of self-esteem. Where this has been neglected, they might now have the time and inclination to pay greater attention to their personal, social and educational needs. It may even be possible that the chaplain might be the one to harness the energy of these considerations to the good of the parents and the wider school community.
Accordingly, the chaplain might set up a Parents Resource Group. In time it would be possible for this group to run courses and programmes to suit the needs of other parents. For example, work done in areas such as drugs, peer pressure, bullying, personal awareness, assistance to teachers, bereavement, separation and home study timetabling, might accomplish great results. If parents were to be recruited annually to the resource group it would give the necessary injection of new ideas and energy. The success of the group would depend on the enthusiasm and interest of the chaplain, with the added advantage of leaving the chaplain free to explore fresh avenues of development for the future.
What is most encouraging for parents is that, in a society which places a great deal pressure on young people, the chaplain is a sensitive, caring, reliable and available resource for all connected with second level schooling. Where the chaplain works together the parents, it is possible that our teenagers will emerge well adjusted after five or six years of the school cycle. This working together will contribute to the self-esteem and confidence of the young people. In turn they will become persons who will be capable of giving to, rather than taking from society. I read once of the parent-child relationship that, 'our children are like arrows and we are the bows'. It is up to the parents to send the 'arrows' out into the world in good condition. Undoubtedly, it is up to the chaplain to remember that the 'bows' also need tending.
Pauline King (parent)
'Reflection of a parent - Pauline King' used with permission.
'The Chaplain: a faith presence in the school community', by Luke Monahan SM and Caroline Renehan.