By The Venerable Canon Sonia Roulston
Archdeacon for Newcastle

Under the NSW Education Act SRE is defined as, “…education in the distinctive beliefs and practices of an approved religious persuasion. SRE is taught by authorised representatives of that religion, and is for students whose parents have expressed the desire, usually at enrolment, that they receive this teaching”.

My first experience of SRE, in common with many people, was in “Scripture” classes at our local primary school. Here we (clearly) learnt the stories of our faith. Though I confess to thinking, at the time, that we heard just as much about our Parish Priest’s Air Force days!

SRE has come a long way since those days, with excellent curriculum resources now available, as well as ongoing training opportunities relevant to the modern day classroom.

My next experience with SRE was when I arrived at the Parish of Gosford as a newly ordained curate. I was told I would teach SRE at our local schools. “Oh dear,” I thought, remembering those primary lessons and our response as students!

However I quickly found SRE to be a highly engaging ministry which I loved! Over the years I have continued to teach and enjoy SRE. This year the invitation has come again to teach SRE and I have gladly taken the opportunity to join the local team in teaching SRE, as much for my own faith as for the community engagement and faith-sharing aspects of this ministry.

Why do I enjoy SRE?

Firstly, I enjoy the fresh engagement of the children with the stories of our faith, which gives me fresh insight into the treasury of our inherited tradition.

When teaching the parables I wonder if the children’s very natural responses are in line with those of the crowds who first heard Jesus tell these stories? Beyond all the theology is the human response.

And then there are their responses to the Christmas accounts, ranging from the very moving to the very entertaining!

The second thing I enjoy about our SRE ministry are the links we make with our local schools and communities in this ministry. SRE teachers can become an important part of a school community, and bring an important perspective to the education of our young children.

I recall one principal who told me of the importance of SRE in his children’s spiritual development. He saw this being of equal importance to their educational, moral, social and physical development.

I asked, another time, a principal to write an article about the value of SRE in her school. She wrote …

“I personally value Scripture lessons for all children but none no more so than for the children of this Public School. I have had the privilege to be in the Year 6 classroom with our SRE teachers. Scripture lessons offer something unique to our children that as teachers we cannot impart (due to restrictions placed upon us by the Department of Education).

“The parables and lessons taught are explained in such a way that the children can understand but more important are the messages the children receive. Christian/good/fair/lifelong messages that I feel my children may not hear anywhere else if not at Scripture.

“Scripture teaching, like all teaching, can so easily touch the heart and lives of children in ways that we may never know about. It is a wonderful position to be in … to make a positive difference to children’s lives.

“My staff and the parent body greatly value the contributions Scripture lessons make to our pupils’ education and not having Scripture would be a hole our school cannot fill.”

Thirdly, I see SRE as a way of sharing with our children a gift that has been given to us. Children’s ministry, in its wider form, has been a great blessing to the development and growth of my own faith. I see the ongoing engagement in SRE as a way to say thank you to those who have also blessed me, and as a way if passing that gift on to others.

SRE is a wonderful ministry and a great privilege. It can be hard. It does take time to prepare and teach lessons. And every now and then there is that “less than responsive” class, but only every now and then. All that said, there are many blessings in SRE that far outweigh these challenges.

Importantly for me this year, in a ministry which is more internally focused, SRE is a ministry which faces out into our community and connects these two worlds.

In these days when our ministry faces increasing challenges I urge you to pray for your SRE teachers and their ministries in your local schools. And if you are interested in finding out more why not ask an SRE teacher if you can “taste and see” go along to observe their classes. They will no doubt be grateful for your interest…and you never know!

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