NSS urges nonreligious school to resist evangelism

Posted: Fri, 8th Sep 2023

Church of England youth evangelism scheme targets Jubilee High School in Surrey, which has no religious ethos.

NSS urges nonreligious school to resist evangelism

A school has been urged by campaigners to resist the Church of England's plans to evangelise to its pupils.

The National Secular Society has written to Jubilee High School in Addlestone, Surrey expressing concerns about the diocese of Guildford's plans to involve the school in its "Youth Catalyst Project".

This would entail youth ministers coming to the school to hold religious activities including "termly worship events" and "providing a bridge into local church where effective small groups will be running to develop the faith of young people", according to a promotional video released by the diocese.

In the video, programme lead Alastair Etheridge (pictured) says the project aims to "encourage worship" and "develop pathways for young people to find out more about Jesus".

He says the Church of England "has an ambition to see the number of young disciples doubled by the year 2030". He encourages viewers to pray that "Jesus can make a difference in young people's lives so that we don't just see a trickle of young people coming to faith over the next seven or eight years" but "a whole stream of young people finding faith in Jesus".

In July, the Church of England released a document saying that it aims to double the number of children converting to Christianity by 2023 by "creating and embedding strategic partnerships between churches and schools".

Jubilee High School does not have a religious ethos. The three other schools involved in the project are all Church of England. The Church of England has distributed £3.2 million to the diocese of Guildford for the Youth Catalyst Project.

In its letter to Jubilee head teacher Mark Conroy, the NSS said parents choosing the school "will reasonably expect the education it provides to be inclusive and secular in nature" and many will have sent their children to that school specifically due to its nonreligious ethos.

It pointed out that the diocese has not stated how the Youth Catalyst Project will benefit the education or welfare of schoolchildren. It said: "Allowing the Church to use Jubilee as a mission field will undermine students' right to freedom of religion or belief, parents' freedom to raise their children according to their own philosophical beliefs, and the school's duty to promote equality and diversity by ensuring no particular religion is given special treatment."

It added that the Church of England's ongoing child safeguarding scandals, its continued opposition to same-sex relationships, and its sexist policies regarding female clergy mean some families "may find the Church's interference with school life particularly objectionable".

It asked the school how it had consulted parents about the Youth Catalyst Project, and what consideration the school had been given to the project's compatibility with the duty to promote equality and diversity.

The 2019 British Social Attitudes survey found just one per cent of 18-24 year olds in Britain belong to the CofE. Overall, less than 1% of adults in England regularly attend CofE services.

NSS: "Evangelism is not education"

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "Schools are for teaching, not preaching."

"While teaching pupils about different religions is important, evangelism is not education - it is indoctrination.

"Jubilee High School must not let itself be exploited to serve the Church of England's agenda to boost its rapidly falling member figures by targeting children with the aim of converting them. The school must protect its inclusive, nonreligious ethos."

Image credit: Diocese of Guildford YouTube account

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