I am the Chaplain for Chatelherault Primary (SHAT-luh-ROH).

For my American readers this will seem strange. Ministers are strictly forbidden to bring the Gospel in any way, shape or form to American schools. Even the Pledge of Allegiance with its phrase, “One nation, under God…” has been taken to the Supreme Court as a violation of Church and State. It’s really quite pathetic.

But public schools in Scotland have chaplains, generally Church of Scotland ministers from the community. The idea is as old as the Scottish Reformation (16th Century) and was conceived by John Knox who revolutionized Scottish society by placing the church at its centre. Public schools were designed as extensions of the church and parish ministers tended the spiritual needs of the parish school. The parish minister had a significant contribution to make to school life and was commonly the primary teacher.

Our influence has waned considerably since then, but the office of chaplain remains. A minister’s presence depends very much on the Head Teacher’s (principal’s) invitation and encouragement. Some are welcoming of ministers, while others, wary of the pluralistic nature of the school community, are more cautious.

Here in Hamilton, ministers are welcomed.

Cadzow has a long connection to Chatelherault and the minister of the church has always been the school chaplain. So, over the last several months I’ve been nurturing a relationship with the school.

Yesterday was the school’s first assembly and I’d made arrangements to be there for it. I prepared a little talk that I hoped the children would find engaging and closed it with a prayer emphasizing the need to love one another as God has loved you. I think it went well.

Later in the day I was back at the school, this time as a parent to pick up son John from his first big day at nursery (pre-school).

As I walked up the street I passed a number of little kiddies wearing the Chatelherault baby blue uniforms.

“Hello Mr. Carswell.”

So many sheepish grins and the spark of recognition in their eyes. They knew who I was, all of them, and why wouldn’t they? I’d spoken to the whole school at the assembly and, with my American accent, was made all the more recognizable and memorable.

I have to say I was both surprised and delighted by their affections, and am looking forward to getting to know them through the school year.

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