Chaplains to fight ministerial heresy

February 18, 2005

The Church of England is preparing to defend higher education against the Government's "utilitarian" focus, backed by an ecumenical army of chaplains.

The General Synod this week called on the Church to get more involved in public debate about the values and purposes of higher education. It wants to see at least one full-time Church of England chaplain in every higher education institution where possible, reversing the trend towards part-time and even unfilled posts.

The synod also called for an explicit recognition from the Government that the higher education sector should aim for a broad understanding of education and its relationship to the development of the whole person.

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Kenneth Stevenson, chairman of the board of education, said many in the Church saw the Government's stance as utilitarian, with its emphasis on the financial benefits of higher education for the individual and the economic benefit of a more effective workforce.

He said the Church of England had argued that the purposes of higher education went further and deeper, to expand students' horizons and develop their potential, a view shared by many in the sector. "I am reminded of the words of the poet W. B. Yeats: 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'," he said.

The Church of England fears government policy could create a shift "away from the ideal of self-sacrifice in the common interest, which is central to the Christian tradition".

The Church of England may join forces with other denominations to fund a full-time ecumenical chaplain in some institutions. As the synod stresses, its chaplains work "alongside people of all faiths and none".

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