Reading Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s work The Christian Priest Today again as I am a secondary English teacher in a private Christian school, our text jumps and pops with relevance, direction, and encouragement!
What speaks to me most significantly is Ramsey’s direction to, “Tend the flock in your charge” (pg 69). As a leader Ramsey understands that we will be faced with many opportunities for growth, challenge, and strife that will include generational, political, social, and financial differences. Ramsey challenges us to behave with balance and temperance (pg 50) as we will need to see all aspects of whom we are leading and where we envision our “end point” (if there IS one) will be.
While he stated the challenge noted above later in his text, he builds a foundation to that challenge as he speaks to how we are to minister to them. On pages 23-24 he wants us to remember that we should see our people as more than just what they can offer us. Specifically, Ramsey states that a priest should not see his parishioners in only religious aspects of life. In other words a priest should not compartmentalize his people. This idea is brought forward even more in page 36 when he speaks to seeking knowledge of the whole aspect of a parishioner: husband, father, little league coach, recovering alcoholic, and every other nuance of that person’s life.
How this idea speaks directly to me is significant. I must remember that I am to see my students as not just who they are while they are in my class but who they are as a whole person. I need to understand, for example, that my 11th grade students have many stressors including school and GPA pressures, family dynamics, sports and extra-curricular activities, potential college options (which come with their own unique variables), peer pressures, and many other issues. As I bear these in mind, I need to touch all aspects of their lives if I wish to make a difference to them and desire to help them grow through smart and wise decisions. As Ramsey notes that we are to address the whole aspect of the person, I understand that application to my own “ministry” as becoming involved with more than just the student who sits in my 4th period American Lit. class or 6th period freshman English class. I need to attend football games, choir concerts, and many other extra-curricular functions that the kids are involved in. They need to see that I want to know them beyond the classroom and that I attend their functions because I care about them and want to be a part of their lives throughout their years in high school.
Ramsey makes another relevant point on page 42 regarding the “one man, the one woman, the one child” and their “infinite worth to God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. John Chrysostom, and Brennan Manning speak to this idea that we should see Christ in each single person. We are called to lead all those in our charge, but we are also called to see, to watch, to notice the individual. For me I need to take note of my students and listen to them when they need to speak to me. However, Ramsey’s words go deeper than just the superficial for me. I have had many students in my career who have been challenging. I have had students cuss at me, walk out of my classroom, throw chairs at me, fight their classmates, and much much worse. As I read Ramsey’s direction, he charges me to remember that no matter how much my students can hurt my feelings, irritate me, distract others, let themselves down, and disappoint their parents, I am to see Christ in them. Let us be clear: That is no small task!
My final point is regarding Ramsey’s point to “teach Christ” in chapter 8. Though he speaks regarding the historical figure of Christ and how a priest exemplifies our risen Lord through the actions of his ministry, I can certainly apply that concept to my work in the classroom. I must speak, behave, respond, and communicate (verbally and non-verbally) in such a way as to “teach Christ” to my students. I must remember that they are always watching me. They see how I respond to the off-task or disrespectful student, speak to other teachers, communicate with their parents, behave when I am tired or stressed. Again, Ramsey’s charge to teach Christ is no small task when I have a classroom full of observers each minute of the day!
Again, Ramsey calls us to “tend the flock in your charge” and be mindful of all variables that can manipulate our attention. I will have students from all ends of the spectrum in my classroom. I must get to know them, their interests, their inadequacies, their accomplishments, their friends and families. I must also remember that whether I like it or not, there will be those students who I long for the days when they are absent from school. However, even with those difficult students I am to see Christ in them and to teach Christ to them. I have a responsibility to them and one that I certainly will not take lightly.