There’s a little known fact that should be broadcasted near and far. Christians love each other and regularly work together for the good of their communities.
I mean in reality, now, not just in a few scattered areas, but across New South Wales.
And we’re not just talking Baptist churches, but churches across the Christian spectrum.
One of the ways it happens is when churches cooperate to deliver joint Christian SRE (Special Religious Education also known as Scripture) in schools.
A generation or more ago, each church did its own SRE with just those children whose families identified with their particular denomination. Almost everywhere, those days are gone. Now local churches cooperate to provide teachers that bring joint Christian (or joint Protestant) classes or assemblies in schools.
Thousands of volunteer SRE teachers work in such teams in NSW, and the sense of camaraderie and shared purpose is a great joy and support to them and a witness to the community. It’s evident at training days where stories are eagerly shared and issues raised, around the ‘sign-in book’ at school where some teachers pray together even though they attend different churches, and in homes and coffee shops where some teachers gather to debrief and plan.
This partnering, as well as bringing new opportunities, brings challenges.
By NSW law, denominations have responsibility for recruiting, authorising and training their teachers and ensuring that teachers use only the materials approved by their church. It becomes complex when SRE is delivered jointly by different denominations working together, because teachers need to be cross-authorised by all the churches involved, and currently each has different requirements.
This is why the peak body for SRE in NSW, the Inter Church Commission on Religious Education In Schools (ICCOREIS) now recommends a basic minimum training standard with competencies, outcomes and processes. It includes each teacher having one of their lessons observed. The agreed time frame on this is ‘as soon as practically possible’. Some denominations including ours, accepted this last year and have been working towards phasing it in for all Baptist teachers.
It is up to each SRE teacher’s authorising body not ICCOREIS, to say what is ‘required training’, but it is hoped that all Approved Providers with teachers in joint programs will adopt this minimum standard over time. In this transition phase, required training is likely to vary between different people in a team from various churches. Grace and understanding needs to be applied as we work towards the excellence we all desire.
There are still some misunderstandings around what’s required for SRE teachers, but you can be sure of this:
- There is no new training requirement being imposed by government on SRE teachers.
- ICCOREIS does not require that all teachers do basic SRE training by next year.
- Not just anyone can be an SRE teacher. All need to be authorised by their church and fulfil the authorising requirements of their denomination. For Baptist teachers this means completing SRE training, an observed lesson and 4 modules of safe ministry training.
With over 10,000 volunteer teachers and a substantial number of paid ones, SRE is the largest weekly interface between the churches and the general public in our state. For this reason alone, churches need to do SRE well, and ensure that it accurately reflects what we stand for.