18 June 2020

Faith Matters - Ekklesia

Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

Faith Matters - Ekklesia

As the semester draws to an end we should pause to consider what can be learnt from the experiences of the last five months. As an Ignatian community, we must take time to discern 'who' we are as a community at this time and determine how we may proceed over the second half of the year. There is no doubt that the challenges imposed upon us due to COVID-19 have been significant and that the ongoing limitations have changed how the College will operate for the foreseeable future. More importantly, though this period has been of great benefit as it has enabled several positive changes to occur. The key change is that it forced the entire College community to work even more closely to ensure the best outcome for each student.

During the semester a number of changes because of COVID-19 restrictions have led to a shift that if maintained will lead to excellent outcomes for each student. Because of remote learning teachers were forced to think on new ways of presenting their courses and were encouraged to use the technology available to not only ‘get through’ courses but enhance and improve what is offered. Students were required to be more resourceful and resilient. They were required to enter into conversations with their teachers and seek support more often. Parents were great supporters who ensured that gentle reminders and advice were given to help students become more competent learners.

None of these things could have occurred without the non-teaching staff of the College. The true hero's in education were and in-fact always are those who do not teach! Without the maintenance, administration, learning support, wellbeing and IT teams the teachers would not have been able to function effectively. The awareness of essential workers in Australia over the last few months has neglected these people and I hope that as a community we can show them the gratitude they deserve.

Reflecting upon these points at the end of the semester brings us to an awareness of how we as a community are different. As a Catholic community, we are in fact more than a school. We are the Church. The Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) is used in the bible to describe the Church has several definitions. In the context of our College, the following seems an excellent description, "a community of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings and manage their own affairs”.

The hierarchy people often apply to the Church is a poor understanding of what the Church in-fact is. At His most intimate level a family is the smallest complete unit within the Church. Families come together in parishes and schools to support one another and their children as a faith community. More broadly parishes are grouped in dioceses and then in national or regional units. At each level, leaders help those within their community. In family’s parents lead and serve, in schools various qualified and experienced staff offer leadership and service, Archbishop's guide and serve the priests and communities they oversee and so on.

Our Church is one of diversity and service. Service is a pleasant word to describe willing sacrifice. In serving someone we sacrifice and willingly accept the cost. Although the staff at the College are reimbursed if you like by their salary, what is offered is often given as a personal sacrifice. Teachers often give more of their time than they are required, they also emotionally suffer when kindness is not reciprocated due to frustration or when they willingly humble themselves rather than force a student to admit fault. Parents and non-teaching staff in a multitude of ways also sacrifice so that our young people can flourish.

Each member of our community is unique and has something special that they can offer ‘the rest of us’. Individually we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus and develop a personal relationship with him in our lives. In this way, we are disciples who not only seek to love Jesus and others but to serve. St Paul explains this well in his letter to the Corinthians in teaching that, “You are one body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it”. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) Every member of our College ekklesia is important and loved. For some, this period of remote learning has been traumatic and has damaged their sense of worth or purpose. As a community, we need to especially be aware of this and support these members with great compassion and love.

The last few months of restrictions and remote learning have offered a glimpse of a truth that is often hidden in our community. We are all needed, we all have unique gifts that can only flourish if supported by others and that often those who serve the most are the least acknowledged. I am very grateful for being able to help students continue their learning over the last three months. I have enjoyed the adventure but know that the relationships I would have developed with the students I care for have not eventuated as they would have if face to face teaching had occurred. I have been fulfilled in those moments when I have been able to truly support students by offering extra support or extensions due to the awareness of the challenges they faced.

What I have seen most clearly and want to hold on to is that each of us is unique and those who work in the background are the most important to our community and serve me so that I can offer my abilities in serving our students.

As the semester ends I encourage you to contemplate how we are the Church, as family's and as a College, and how we are part of the global Church, connected spiritually to all those of faith in the world today and all those who have entered eternal life. I also hope you will be inspired to make contact with the non-teaching staff at the College and offer your appreciation for all they have done to ensure learning could continue, that our community has remained safe because of their sacrifice and how much their service is valued and should be more often acknowledged by our College community.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls Religious Education and Liturgy Coordinator