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Royal Visit

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Friday 10 February 2012

After a bit of a ‘snow scare’ last night we have arrived at the end of this half term without further weather related disruption.  It always feels as if this half term is when we turn the corner and start to see the spring on the horizon after a number of very cold and dark weeks at school.  Like many working people, I scarcely see my back garden from one weekend to the next at this time of year!  The school site and grounds look fantastic in different ways in all seasons, but seeing them covered in snow is a particular treat.  The excitement of snow which was very fresh on Monday this weeks has however worn off, and almost nobody yesterday showed any interest  at all in snowballing, whereas on Monday there was great enthusiasm for this.  Perhaps the realisation that spending several hours in cold and wet clothes is actually not much fun after all!

I am just able today to make public that we will be welcoming the Countess of Wessex to a visit to Bennett on Thursday 22nd March.  The Countess has many links with this part of Kent, having herself spent part of her childhood in Brenchley, and in fact Lady Elena Bennett, the co-founder of the school, herself also resided in Brenchley.  It is fitting therefore that this royal visit is taking place in the school’s diamond jubilee year, which roughly co-incides with the same national celebration for the Queen.  The Countess will be in school for about an hour on 22nd March, and we are arranging a programme which will enable her to get some sense of the school’s ethos and achievements, and enable as many students as possible to have the opportunity to see or meet with her.  The Earl of Wessex is in fact taking over his father’s role of patron of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, and as a school which particularly values the Award we hope to give the Countess a flavour of our students’ achievements in this area.

I hear from the news this morning that a ruling is expected on whether it is legal for a town council in Devon to open its sessions with a prayer.  It will be interesting to see which way the judgement goes, but I have to confess to finding the issue somewhat perplexing.  Apparently one councillor has said he finds the short opening prayer embarrassing and feels, as an atheist, that he suffers ‘disadvantage’ from it.  One could easily be flippant and say that in fact the Almighty is unlikely to exercise discrimination by allocating more favours to believers than to the atheist councillor, so it would be difficult to demonstrate he he had in fact been ‘disadvantaged’. More seriously though, the ruling risks saying that in all aspects of public life it is not permissible to appeal to God for guidance, validation or support.  What would we do about the coronation oath? The Remembrance Day service at the cenotaph? The oath taken in court? Even the cross on the flag of St George?  For committed believers, public prayers and services are understood in terms of their active Christian faith. But these things can be taken at many levels. For many who would not describe themselves as believers, they are interpreted as an often moving recognition that humans are weak and frequently cannot get everything right by themselves.  To say that it is never possible to invoke God in public life is not only to deny the historic orientation of Western civilisation and culture, but also to deny a very real expression of both humility and connectedness which resonates even with our un-Churched society.  At the end of the day, a non-believer can simply close their mind to an aspect of worship which they feel is meaningless to them.  There is certainly no support amongst members of Britain’s non-Christian religious communities for such militant secularism.  Indeed, many regard this kind of thing as a symptom of exactly how we have gone wrong as a society.

I am reading a wonderful book at the moment which I think deserves to be better known.  Lazarus is dead by Richard Beard is a wonderful imaginative reconstruction of the life of Lazarus before, and after, his death.  It is beautifully and richly written, engrossing and entirely resonant with the snippets and clues we have about the interaction of his life and that of Jesus in the gospels.  Well worth a read!

I am faced today with no sleep for the next 36 hours – but I expect no sympathy for this, as I am accompanying the sixth form ski trip to Austria leaving school at 7pm this evening – by coach!  A school ski trip is always a hugely enjoyable and all-consuming experience and it is particularly rewarding to accompany those students who have never ski-ed before.  The snow this year is superb, but the temperatures very low – it has been minus 38 degrees in the resort we are going to, and the highest temperature forecast over the next few days is minus 12.  Thermals at the ready!

I hope all readers have an enjoyable and restful break.