It was 1818. King George III was on the throne, but due to his illness (which many called madness), his son George was acting as Regent. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was published. Emily Bronte was born. The Old Vic theatre was founded, and Dr James Blundell performed the first blood transfusion. The Napoleonic wars had ended just three years earlier.
It was 1818. A very different time and world from our own. But at that moment in history the people of St Michael’s, Bishop’s Stortford made a decision which continues to impact our church and community today. They became part of the growing Church Schools movement, by founding St Michael’s Church of England school, to serve the people of this town and parish by providing an Anglican education for the community’s children.
St Michael’s was founded under the auspices of the Church of England’s National Society, which in 1811 began its mission to establish a Church School in every parish of the nation. This mission had a variety of thrusts. It was motivated by a desire to help the poor – those whose families would not otherwise be able to afford a formal education for their children. It was aimed at inculcating Christian (and specifically Anglican) knowledge and doctrine. And, arguably, it was intended as something of a socially conservative movement, to counter the forces of secular revolution and non-conformist dissent, nurturing children to be loyal to the established. status quo.
That was 1818. Two centuries later much has changed. Society has developed in many ways, becoming more plural and more secular, at least in its formal organization. The relationship between church and state has transformed. The world of education has revolutionized many times over. The St Michael’s School of 2018 looks completely different to the school founded two hundred years ago.
And yet some at least of those founding principles are just as key. That vision to serve the local community is being shared with the schoolchildren of 2018 as they explore and implement the Christian value of ‘Service’ this term.
The Christian faith undergirds the life of the school and gives a strong grounding for the philosophy of its education. Christian distinctiveness in worship and ethos is something the school tries to encourage and develop on a constant basis. And the opportunities St Michael’s Church continues to benefit from through our relationship with our church school are fruitful and precious. Our world, our challenges and concerns are not those of 1818. But the Church of England’s involvement in education remains a wonderful gift, in our own parish’s mission, and that of many others.
You may have been connected to St Michael’s, as a pupil or governor, a teacher or parent, at some point in the past. Perhaps it was formative to you, or your family. But whether or not you have personal connections with St Michael’s, why not celebrate its Bicentennial at our Parish Communion on 17th June at 10am? Members of the school will contribute to our worship. We will have a guest preacher – the Archdeacon of Hertford. We’ll give thanks for the past and look to the future. And we’ll have the opportunity to do just what St Michael’s was founded for – to help local people learn the truth and ways of God.
Blessings from Derwyn.