“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
As I sit down to write this at the start of January, schools are once again having to adapt day-to-day, doing all they can for their students.
Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been privileged to accompany educators and young people, through visits, work with small groups, inputs for teachers and lots of online content. Catholic educators’ courage, commitment and willingness to go the extra mile keeps blowing me away – I’ve seen head teachers filling in as social workers, visiting at-risk young people, incredible provision for families seeking asylum, school staff cooking Christmas meals. No teacher could ever have imagined all that this pandemic has asked of their vocation. Thank God for their dedication and love of the young!
These strange and difficult times might feel like we are pressing pause on the “normal” work of education. It might feel like a wasted time, or a season of waiting to get back to doing things how we used to do them. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the seeds sown during this time might just grow some of the most important shoots later on. Young people are watching and learning how we cultivate resilience during this time: How we build a better future. How we oppose injustice and violence. Yes, their education doesn’t look “normal” this year, but I believe we can continue to help them explore the relationship between faith and action which will bear fruit into the future.
Last term ended up being surprisingly busy (largely thanks to ‘seeds’ planted in the past!). For example, I had a number of primary eco-retreats (made COVID-safe by being based outside whenever possible – thank goodness for my dad’s old walking boots). Each Friday afternoon was spent in a Catholic secondary, accompanying a class of Year 10s through a programme on See-Judge-Act and ‘Caring for Creation’.
I facilitated a number of online encounters between young people and educators here and people around the world experiencing first-hand the devastating impact of climate change in their communities. Young people reflecting on these experiences, exploring solidarity, praying, taking actions such as joining virtual protests, writing to their MPs or, with CAFOD, sending Christmas cards to environmental defenders – all these seeds were planted during these strange times. For example a CYMFED webinar on 9 December (above) on Climate Justice included Fr Liam O’Callaghan, who is on mission in Pakistan where climate change is a huge issue and AG Sano from the Philippines who lost three close friends in the Haiyan typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013. A young climate activist in Britain joined the panel.
To my great discomfort I also spent a lot of last term being beamed live into schools and across dioceses – and even worse, being recorded for young people to watch in their own time or at virtual events. Examples have included a long interview for Leeds Diocese, a confirmation session for Northampton Diocese Youth Service, a session on ‘Laudato Si’ and walking the talk’ for the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation and being interviewed by young people about taking groups to join climate strikes as part of retreat days. I sometimes wonder what impact the videos have. It can feel disheartening when I compare the online style with the interaction of normal times. But again, it comes back to planting seeds. Perhaps one of the views might act to inspire, challenge or affirm someone to explore their ‘vocation for justice’.
Planting seeds at this time might be a challenge – but gardeners have been battling the challenges wrought by the climate crisis for a long time and have had to learn to adapt; trialling plants that thrive in more extreme weather and developing new and different forms of agriculture. We as educators also need to learn to adapt in this current crisis. Some seeds require fire or smoke to germinate! As a Christian I try to believe that the Holy Spirit will work through these difficult times, using them to nurture the leaders, prophets, activists, healers and educators we need.
We ask God’s blessing on all involved in the great work of education – teachers, chaplains, young people and more – during these difficult times – may they know the value of what they do.