We returned and we survived; our first mission as the Cross Purposes team 2012-/2013 is over.
Arriving before the stately school buildings, one’s eyes are drawn to the towering crucifix opposite, and as you follow the gaze of Jesus, behold the chapel. There I find hope and my expectancy for the mission increases. A beauty. Surrounded by ancient stonework and depictions of the saints, the main chapel is set out in two choirs leading to the Pugin altar. Altars abound in this place, and the fibula of St Edmund is reserved in the side chapel in which we had the privilege of daily mass to focus our works of the day. I firmly hold that the Liturgy holds the principal role in how the Church communicates – solid liturgy will both pave the ground for the mission and allow it to bear lasting fruits. This school has it with the saintly ministry of their resident priest, Fr. Pino.
The prospect of boarding in a lodge on site was a welcome start for the team, but it proved to have the benefits of allowing us to get to know many of the staff and students before our first formal assembly. We lead evening prayers before supper on the Saturday we arrived- singing ‘Awesome God’ in a round of boys and girls introduced the week to the boarders. But we had plenty to do before Monday. The sound equipment still wasn’t set up and we needed to practice all the songs and dramas on the stage we’d be using. There was excitement ahead but, for me at least, there was still uncertainty about what to expect (other than greatness).
Come Monday, we were on the stage doing our thing. Gentle butterflies join us, but do not hinder us, as we begin to look at anything that might get in the way of our relationship with God such as friends, music and magazines. Three assemblies later, we feel that the initial response was positive but we get to experience this more as we visit classrooms over the next few periods.
Visiting a year 11 group as our first experience of going into a classroom might have been more daunting had we the time to reflect on this before finding ourselves before the class. With hindsight, I can say the group I encountered was one of the highlights of the mission. I was paired up with a more experienced member of the team, and we started to get to know the group better and found out their thoughts on toast or cereal as well as whether Jesus lived, died and rose again. We then had the chance to answer some great questions about us, the team and faith. The teacher of this class gave a great input into her faith summing it up as ‘I believe as I have a relationship with God’. Some of the comments were more bizarre, such as I was informed by different groups of my likeness to Jack Black and Ed Sheeran. I was aware of the former, but the latter was confirmed by others through the week; they said we’d come to know ourselves more over the year.
The highlight for me was lunchtimes. Food is always good, but the conversations at the table will surely set in motion a chain of events leading to the conversion at the Table. I met people with deep questions about gender roles, homosexuality, suffering and issues such as slavery. I didn’t have the answers on hand, but I could listen and open the discussion to prepare the mind to search for an answer.
Other members of the team have shared their highlights, and these moments stand out in a profound way to me too. Large numbers of pupils chose to visit the chapel during adoration over lunch to light a candle or say a prayer; we ran out of candles. The staff had an experience of this, and the headmaster remarked that the experience of worshipping with his staff is a memory that he will recall as he puts his head on his pillow every night for the rest of his life. Wednesday looks at the person of Christ, and the assemblies had a focus on the sacrament of reconciliation. Father was blown away by the quantity of students asking for confession (we ran out of scheduled time slots) – his joy at seeing the students experience God in the Eucharist was manifestly overwhelming. A final moment of grace, which I missed while hiding in the corner doing PowerPoints, was the sixth form assembly on Thursday. Two of the upper sixth form boys got up and danced along to ‘Deep crys out’, the humour of the situation was compounded in the fact that one of them was in army cadet uniform!
At any rate, a gentle start for our first mission. Many great seeds planted, and a fantastic buy in to the mission by staff and pupils alike. As a team we got to know each other’s strengths much more, having some good times along the way (FWIW I think I won the heresy game and Nathan learnt that I sometimes spontaneously punch those near me to demonstrate freewill).
The year of faith has begun.