In my time at Bennett, one of the features common to many of the ‘yearbooks’ written and published by our year 13 leavers has been a page which tries to imagine what career pathways fellow students will elect to follow and succeed in, once they have moved on fully into their adult lives. Typically the suggestions tend to have a comic tone and are a celebration of what the students value in one another. Amongst the astronauts, brain-surgeons, livestock farmers and traffic wardens, most years have seen at least one student identified as ‘most likely to become a vicar’. It seems, interestingly, that they are often pretty accurate.
I was privileged on Wednesday 7th September to join a large congregation at King Charles the Martyr Church, Tunbridge Wells to be part of the service of induction and installation of the Reverend Laurence Powell as the new vicar of that parish. There was quite a significant level of Bennett representation at the event. Not only were there three Bennett headteachers in the congregation, a number of current and former students were there, along with our chaplain, at least one former member of our support staff, some governors, and, being inducted and installed Laurence, himself a Bennett student who left in 2004 to read his first degree at Winchester. Now you can probably anticipate my next words. I am pretty sure that Laurence’s peers had predicted that he was ‘most likely to become a vicar’ in their yearbook.
Being called by God to do Him some definite service is an important idea and principle which we have been articulating in assemblies in our first week back at Bennett. It underpins much of what we say about relationships and indeed achievement at the school. If we are all created for something, then the role of educators is to foster and help realise that Divine purpose and so we value one another accordingly. But vocation, that belief and in many cases conviction that we are called to serve God’s purposes in particular ways through our lives and work, has a meaning and significance which goes beyond a warm fuzzy feeling that we are all in God’s hands and matter to Him. Service, after all, makes real demands on us.
We were reminded by Bishop James in the service on Wednesday that Christian vocation takes different forms. For some it is a calling to the ordained or religious life. For all, it is a vocation to Christian discipleship. Laurence is one of a significant number of former Bennett students who have responded to God’s call to the priestly ministry, indeed I could spot at least one other in the gallery at King Charles. We hope to foster the climate at Bennett where all of our young people can hear and understand God’s call to them.
In the current educational context, it is worth spending just a moment reflecting on who Christians believe God is calling to. It is captured wonderfully by a painting from the Italian painter Caravaggio, which hangs in the Roman Church San Luigi dei Francesi. It depicts the vocation of Saint Matthew, called from collecting taxes to be a disciple. The illumination from Christ’s hand, pointing at Matthew in the painting, speaks powerfully of the consuming impact of His call. Most striking of all in the painting is the self-loathing of Matthew and the incredulity of the onlookers. This goes to the heart of our Christian beliefs at Bennett about the unique worth and purpose of each and every individual. We believe that every individual child has merit, to use a term which is in the headlines. As a school we know that discerning and fostering that unique purpose can take time, and that young people develop at different rates. We are wholeheartedly committed to nurturing and developing the potential of every child personally, spiritually and academically so that no vocation is stifled or closed off.
It goes without saying that we are very proud that our former student Laurence is now vicar of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells. We wish him every success and happiness in his ministry there, and we look forward to the fruits of further yearbook predictions.