Despite initial scepticism, despite myself I actually rather enjoyed watching the royal wedding last Friday! Several students have reminded me that they have never seen a ‘royal’ event like this before; I am old enough to have been in London at the 1981 Charles and Diana wedding, so have experienced this sort of very ‘British’ pageantry before. It is interesting to speculate about what it does for us as a country: I have come to think that in a very fractured society where we are divided about so many things having shared experiences and traditions such as these which are largely non-partisan can offer a sense of unity. Moreover, more specifically, at a time when nationally marriage is moving rapidly out of the religious domain, and is seen by many as a purely secular contract, showing the whole nation an example of a Christian wedding service conducted with such dignity and beauty might contribute positively to the way Christian marriage is seen and, perhaps, inspire some people to choose to get married in Church rather than in a hotel or country house.
Last week I commented on the Bishop of Oxford’s intervention on Church of England schools. He had said that he wanted to get to the point where Church schools admit no more than one in ten children on the basis of religious commitment, because, in his view, the Church of England should serve the whole of the local community. Worthy thoughts, at first sight. In addition to what I said last week, I have been wondering about a further flaw in his arguments. The less obviously a Church school is different from other schools, the fewer committed Church people it attracts, both teachers and students. If the Church, in the shape of its schools, were to completely ‘dissolve’ its differences with wider (secular) society by encouraging Church schools to become more like non-Church schools, it is difficult to see how they could possibly continue to contribute something different, distinctive, counter-cultural perhaps, to society, or the local community. It is precisely by remaining ‘different’ that Church schools can remain a source of distinctive provision and Christian values for society at large. A more worthwhile way forward would be to explore ways of enabling Church schools to share their distinctive character and approaches with other non-Church schools, and in that way to spread a more spiritual outlook on education and the world more widely. Church schools should be as salt: but salt has to remain salt to be able to flavour the food. If the salt become another chemical, it will no longer be able to enhance the flavour of the food.