Margaret Barton (RE Advisor for Secondary Schools, Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh)
We are journeying through the desert during Lent. Prior to the first lockdown, by the third week of Lent last year, amongst other things, students would have received their ashes in school or their local parish, Lenten lessons would be taught, Lenten pledges made, classes would have received their SCIAF Wee Boxes and be planning fundraising activities, and the school Chaplain would have been offering additional Masses during Lent for pupils and staff to attend.
Every school, naturally, wants to journey through Lent in the same way as they do every year. How can this be done when, at present, only P1 – 3 pupils and the children of key workers are in school on a daily basis, with the majority of pupils learning, mainly, online? Schools are having to plan on the basis of government announcements every few weeks, so, by the 4th week of Lent all primary pupils will have returned together with senior phase students in secondaries, while S1-3 students will be following the blended learning model.
As a Secondary RE Advisor I am in the very fortunate position of being able to liaise with school leaders and teachers working in different authority areas. It is enriching and enjoyable to be in this position and I am full of admiration at the materials and approaches that schools have prepared and the processes they have put in place to help their pupils to live Lent as if they were in school. Teachers have been very creative and resourceful in the different IT tools and programs they have used to make online Lenten learning engaging for students while also using the RE lessons prepared by the Religious Education Advisors, hosted on the SCES website. Some examples are that students and their families have been directed to online Ash Wednesday Mass and services, weekly assemblies and Mass, video clips prepared by Parish Priests on different topics, Stations of the Cross and spiritual resources and prayer services that can involve the whole family. Chaplains and teachers have led prayer services on online platforms, and, as they would at school, have different pupils lead readings and prayers with music teachers recording accompanying hymns. Pupils have been encouraged to go on a Rosary Walk during their daily exercise, committing to a 40-day challenge which gives a daily example of praying, fasting, or giving during the Lenten period, or holding a ‘uniform day’ to raise money for the SCIAF Wee Box appeal.
Lent would normally be a period when Diocesan Advisors and schools would be planning services and retreats that could support staff in their spiritual journey through Lent. Again, these events are being offered online with reflection clips being recorded by the clergy and religious, prayer services being written for a school leader or chaplain to lead staff via a Teams meeting, staff ‘meetings’ to pray the Angelus or the Stations of the Cross and weekly spiritual resources available on the SCES website that staff can use individually or as a group.
There is no doubt that schools and teachers have risen to the challenge of supporting pupils to live Lent fruitfully out-with the school environment. It has been suggested anecdotally that, due to home schooling, there has been an opportunity for the greater involvement of parents in online liturgies and Mass with their child(ren), as well as thinking about, supporting and joining them in their Lenten pledges to pray, fast, and give to others. Nevertheless, teachers and students from P4 onwards will be looking forward in hope to being able to gather again as a community of faith in their school. Perhaps there is a tendency to take the opportunity for prayer and the celebration of Mass at school for granted – undoubtably, there will be a greater joy and appreciation in being able to gather physically again, albeit with social distancing, to engage in liturgies and receive the Eucharist.
When evaluating this period teachers will consider and reflect on whether some of the approaches to Lent this year will feed into their future practice. Students and parents are extremely grateful to, and appreciative of, their schools and teachers who have adapted resources and worked so hard to ensure the spiritual formation of young people continues unabated despite this period of restrictions during Lent 2021.
This is the dynamic of Lent: Christ precedes us with his exodus, and we cross the desert thanks to him and behind him…He gives us the living water of his Spirit, and it is up to us to draw from his font and drink, in the sacraments, in prayer, in adoration; he is the light which conquers darkness, and we are asked to keep alight the little flame that was entrusted to us on the day of our baptism.
Excerpt from ‘On Hope’ By Pope Francis