Delightful to meet Dr Joseph Osawa tonight, with us in Toowoomba this week to lead conflict resolution workshops. A Japanese American, with degrees from Harvard and the University of Southern California, Dr Ozawa has been a psychologist since 1980, working at very high levels, including for the Singapore government as a Senior Consultant Psychologist and as former Senior Director of the Family and Juvenile Justice Centre of the Subordinate Courts. An Active Anglican preacher, he has also been a licensed lay pastor at Saint Andrew's Cathedral of Singapore. In late 2003, St Andrew's sent him and his wife out as 'tentmaking missionaries', counseling especially amongst the homeless and lonely. A consultant with World Vision International, he has a wealth of experience in pastoral & missionary care, cross cultural issues, domestic problems (violence, substance abuse, etc) , medical-psychological healthcare integration and mental disorders, and stress & trauma recovery (including in post-tsunami recovery). What another lovely gift he is our city! Here is a little taste of his wisdom for parents and schools:
My suggestion to parents is focus more on the heart values, home values, and spiritual values for their children, rather than just the material, external kind of things. "If you have a good home and a bad school life, you still can survive.If you have a good school life and a bad home, you can still survive.But if you have a bad home and a bad school, then you're in trouble."
Toowoomba Preparatory School - now known as Toowoomba Anglican College and Preparatory School (TACAPS) - began in 1911 and has seen many changes and had many achievements over the years. It has certainly been a well loved Anglican school for so many who have passed through its doors. From an initial foundation of 17 students, it has grown as the only co-educational Anglican school in the Diocese of Brisbane west of the Great Dividing Range. Sitting picturesquely atop the Range, it indeed has a very beautiful series of buildings and resources and a delightful assembly of students and staff. It is currently however facing one of its biggest challenges as it transitions from what has essentially been a junior school to a full school covering ages from kindergarten to year 12. This also involves developing new outward-looking relationships with others. As an Anglican school located in the parish of St Luke, Toowoomba, this is an important concern for many of us in the wider church too. It is also an invitation for others to join in what is an encouraging spirit of faith in the future. For what above all impressed me in my most recent visit last week was the passion, imagination and practical pastoral and educational vision of the school, wonderfully embodied in its Head of School, Mr Simon Lees. This not only gave me confidence for the school's future but was also a witness to others to grasp the nettle of change, with all its demands and uncertainty. For a journey into the unknown can be unsettling for any well-established institution, even one with the past and present resources of TACAPS. It requires a genuine faith in the future and care and imagination to match. It is literally, as well as metaphorically, trusting in things unseen. For me, this was marvellously expressed both by the fledgling first-year students and staff of the inaugural year 8 and by their aptly named Inspiration Room. Would that every Christian body had an Inspiration Room! As our parish at this time seeks to discern its own 'mission action plan', part of which must involve developing closer links with TACAPS as part of our commitment to being One Church with One Mission, this is an encouragement and inspiration to us too. Can we all respond to the invitation to have faith in the future?
Toowoomba has been at the heart of controversy over the provision of state school chaplains, with local resident Ron Williams driving the national legal case against. What a huge delight it was today therefore to hear from two local state school chaplains, speaking of the joys and deep challenges of their work. One had returned to school this year to help the school community face up to the murder of a child and mother from their midst. The other spoke of the challenges of walking with young people in the face of terrible scarring, self-harm and suicide. Sure, pastoral care workers also contribute immensely and heroically. Yet the chaplains contribute vital extra resources and dimensions in these situations, and in so many other, thankfully, less crisis relationships. This all takes place in an increasingly underfunded and undervalued state system. To hear their stories is therefore to rejoice in the ways in which, through school chaplaincy, many young people are helped to find their worth and purpose.
It was also encouraging to hear Scripture Union leadership reflect on how the legal case (back in court again on new grounds) has not only helped better law, but has also built much better understanding and community communication and ownership (including by MPs from across the mainstream political spectrum). On a wider level, school chaplaincy has thereby been a key issue in helping Australians, with various religious commitments and none, work out together how to live in a secular state without privileging any specific viewpoint, including that of secularism: not denying our communities the positive benefits of religious-based care, compassion and commitment, yet not opening the door to proselytism or favouritism. It is a case study in becoming a more post-Enlightenment society: no longer seeking to prevent long-gone 19th century battles of sectarianism, but enabling the energies of all, and encouraging every group (religious, agnostic and secularist) to value each other's contributions and to exercise appropriate self-restraint in the public realm. In my opinion, there is much more to explore, especially in terms of providing first-class education (rather than patchy provision of instruction) into different religious and secularist lives and outlooks. It seems very odd, and a significant loss to our shared community self-understanding, that Australian schools typically provide so little in helping children and young people understand what their different fellow Australians believe and live by religiously and philosophically. Perhaps we can all begin by valuing our school chaplains even more as part of the answer rather than as part of the problem?
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.