Faith is pithier than panic

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Bar-room philosophers' first advice is often "Never work with animals or children." This is usually followed by an injunction to avoid discussing politics or religion. So much for the requirements for a quiet life.

If you count the menagerie in the biology department (animals that is, not staff!), we already transgress the original diktat, and sometimes rue the fact. Therefore, when we heard we were to be visited by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland there was a certain foreboding that we might stray into the second forbidden zone.

In fact, panic was the original reaction. If this seems outrageous, remember that moderators are usually only mentioned in Catholic schools for one reason. So when word got out that we were expecting a visit from "the moderator", some principal teachers who had previously had difficulties with external assessment, made the natural, Higher Still-related assumption, turned deathly white and started muttering something which might have been "For FSUs!" On realising that the visit was to be of a theological nature, the nerves were replaced by curiosity, and a desire to ensure the visit was a pleasant one. It was part of an official tour of the local presbytery, taking in schools, hospitals and public services. We were delighted that Andrew McLellan wshed to visit a denominational school such as ours, not only because we have a number of his flock on our roll, but also because it was in complete harmony with our approach to religious and moral education which states clearly that, in relation to the great issues of the day, far more unites us with the Church of Scotland than divides us.

In the event, the visit was a great success, both for the school and, judging by letters received since, for the Moderator and his party.

While senior staff were mindful of the importance of the occasion, our senior pupils were in no mood for circumspection. They steamed straight into the theologically murky waters of miracles and the after-life, and were charmed by the open and friendly manner in which the Moderator joined their discussions.

He told third year that his most awkward moment had come during a visit to Africa, when he had been greeted by crowds who appeared less than friendly. This was explained by his interpreter having translated his opening remarks as "I've just arrived and I'm very angry" rather than "and I'm very hungry"!

Happily there were no such communication difficulties in our school. In fact, given the subsequent stushie along the M8 in Lanarkshire, it was a visit that was in severe danger of giving religion a good name.

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