The two villages have been absorbed into the county town as it has spread outwards, once rural parishes assuming a suburban nature. Driving westward from the town centre, there were road signs pointing to the respective primary schools of the two communities. County council signs, black letters on a white background, both had been adjusted. Visible to a passing driver was the fact that the word “church” had been affixed to the sign, completely obscuring the word “primary.” An internet search revealed that both schools still used the word “primary” in their website name, but that both schools were under the management of a single parish which had an ethos committee to overlook the spiritual and moral life of the two establishments.
Presumably, the Church of England perceives such steps as a positive way forward. The school websites highlight the importance of religious education, church involvement and the connection with the local Church of England diocese. Yet, if the experience of the Roman Catholic church in Ireland is an indicator, the Church of England cannot hope that more strongly stressing church identity in schools will save it from its inexorable decline.
The established church in England was long regarded by evangelical Christians as leading to nominal Christianity, it demanded no personal commitment of its members and baptised whoever might come along. If one delves into history, there seemed a strong evangelical tradition that desired a separation of church and state and a reduction of the influence of the established church in spheres such as education. Far from demanding “church” schools, evangelicals in earlier times would have wished for a church disengagement from education.
Seeking to impose one’s beliefs on others, even in subtle ways like controlling the ethos of primary school education, does not create a Christian society, it creates the nominalism so disliked by those in the past who regarded themselves as committed Christians.
The Church of England could render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s; they could embrace a separation of church and state, so that those who are called “Christian” might really be Christian, so that church members might be people who have made a personal commitment and who have a personal faith. The Church could then confidently serve Jesus among those whom Jesus himself would have regarded as friends; the Church could could happily turn its back on the rich and the powerful and seek to live out the Gospel in daily life. It could, but if even the road signs are being changed, it seems unlikely that daringly following the example of Jesus is going to happen soon.