• 40 Years On

    Queen’s Birthday weekend must be a special provision for people celebrating jubilees. This year’s marked the 50th anniversary of the school where I began my teaching career, Tawa College.

    There were the usual events — sports fixtures, photos through the decades, various dinners — and on Sunday morning, a church service in the college hall. I was especially interested in the church service, because the organisers had asked me to run it.

    My first act was to enlist the assistance of my old friend and former colleague, Bruce Murray, to preach the sermon. Bruce was the principal of Tawa College for a dozen years or so from 1989, and he would suit the service on a number of counts. Most important, I knew he would preach a thoughtful and challenging, and appropriate, sermon for the occasion.

    There were no prizes for guessing where he would start his thinking. The college motto, chosen by the foundation principal, is “Do justly,” from Micah 6 verse 8 — “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Alan Mackie, the man who chose the motto, said he had selected it because he wanted something Biblical but not too evangelistic, something well grounded in the highest authority and beyond the sectarian, intrinsically admirable enough so no one could object to it without being churlish.  So the school has “Do justly.”

    Nor is it obscure, fading on fraying blazer pockets and dimly discerned on the covers of ancient magazines. The school’s second principal, Eric Flaws, set himself to writing a school litany based on the motto. He gave it to the school in 1966 and they say it once a week to this day. It reads:

    By faithfully using all our skills in whatever we undertake
    May we, O Lord, do justly
    By lending our strength to weaker friends whenever they need support
    May we, O Lord, do justly
    By considering well the views of those with whom we cannot agree
    May we, O Lord, do justly
    And by taking away, when we leave this place, a desire to serve our world
    May we, O lord, do justly.

    It’s true that its words have had a fair old hammering by the distortions of many an uncouth youth in the anonymity of assemblies through the years, but it’s true too that these are fine sentiments and, if uttered in anything approaching half a spirit of prayer, likely to prove of incalculable worth to the person praying them and those within their orbit.

    So I knew we would say the litany at the reunion service, just as I knew we would have Micah 6:8 in the lead up to the sermon. But I didn’t know who would actually come.

    You never know at a school reunion church service. You hope that people of faith will take the time to attend, but who else, perhaps quite unfamiliar with churches, might be there as well? There is no way of knowing beforehand, or of recognising them at the time. All very healthy, actually. So what to preach to them?

    Bruce had thought about this. He began by reading from the minutes book of the original Board of Governors: one of the few sermons I have ever heard to begin at such a source. He talked, by precept and by anecdote, of doing justly. Then he moved on to the prophet Micah’s elaboration on the school motto,  “to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” All about forgiveness, he said, and a sentiment unlikely to appear on the jerseys of the 1st XV. But without forgiveness, he reminded us, God would not be approachable for us and we become unapproachable for one another. From Matthew 6 he gave us the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” He told us stories about those who had been able by the grace of God to forgive the most hideous things, and of others who, lacking that grace, had not. He spoke alike to the faithful and the doubtful and the positively scornful. I don’t know what anyone else thought, but I was once again challenged at a basic level — not bad, from a school jubilee — and I noted, for personal application, the words on the back wall of the school assembly hall: “Depart to serve.” By doing justly, and by learning to forgive.

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