Education, Education, Education…

Posted August 3, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized


Are we the product of our education? Or are the schools and even university that we attended irrelevant?  For thousands of parents in this country who pay huge school fees to send their children to the right place, the answer is obvious. For others it can be said that they have succeeded – or failed – in life despite the education they received. And for some of us the answer is ‘it’s complicated’.

I’ve been mulling over this in recent months, partly because I am a school governor and the chair of a body that oversees, in some way, a hundred and forty church schools in East London and Essex. The work of those schools is hugely important to the children and families they serve, and yet we seem unsure, as a country, about just what we’re trying to achieve in our schools.

For me, schooling was a very mixed affair, and yet I am sure that I reflect many aspects of my education in my life now. The first school I attended was in Ghana, where my father – a doctor – was working. The Akosombo International School is now a huge boarding establishment of some repute, but in 1964 it was much smaller and mostly attended by the children of the white westerners who were supervising the building of the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River. I learned to swim in a fabulous tropical open-air pool, but forgot completely when faced with the cold water of Mile End Municipal Baths when taken there by my next school, in London.

Malmesbury Primary School, in east London, was a very different place. Looking back, I can see that we were taught by some deeply dedicated teachers, including the brilliant infants head, Ruth Fisher. Compared to the drab greyness of the East End in the mid-1960s, it was a bright, colourful place and the sort of progressive school that is too often derided now as ‘trendy’. True, we never learned our ‘times tables’ but, as East End kids even then of a range of backgrounds and ethnicities, we learned about the world and how to get on with each other. I’m grateful for Malmesbury School.

I made a big leap in moving, at the age of eight, to St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School. Everyone spoke ‘posh’, so I soon became bilingual as I moved between the streets of Bow E3 and the choir stalls of St Paul’s. They’d all done their times tables and learned things that I hadn’t, so I appeared stupid to them. It was only when we all did the ‘eleven plus’ tests that the teachers discovered that I had a brain. I remember them talking about the results in hushed tones and treating me with a respect that had been lacking until then.

Of course, the life of a chorister at St Paul’s offered a superb musical education. Singing for at least two hours a day to the highest standards for five years, and being treated as a fellow professional musician by adult singers, is an astonishing training. It is no wonder that many of my contemporaries have gone on to musical careers, among them the composer Mark Russell, the keyboardist and hugely-successful producer Marius de Vries, the organist Simon Lawford, the oboeist Simon Emes, the organist, choirmaster and tv personality Simon Lole and a number of others who still play or produce music. For myself, opportunities to play in public are not as frequent as they were, but I can still be found leading ‘the Dry Bones Band’ at events in Chelmsford Cathedral and elsewhere from time to time.

Not only does the life of a cathedral chorister produce able musicians but the discipline involved in leading daily cathedral worship results in the ability to concentrate for long periods that another former St Paul’s chorister, England cricket captain Alastair Cook has credited in enabling him to grind out long innings in the face of intense pressure. One of my contemporaries, Simon Russell Beale, has used it in a different way to produce some of the most remarkable performances in British theatre in recent years.
To move from a 38-pupil choir school to any other school is difficult. For me, Forest School, set in Epping Forest on the border between Walthamstow and Redbridge, seemed vast and frightening. It wasn’t really, but for me it still took some getting used to. As a music scholar, I had to earn my fees by participating in the musical life of the school. Whereas a cathedral chorister will often not see the music to be sung at Evensong until that morning’s rehearsal, at Forest I was expected to note-bash through weeks of dull choir practices before participating in a performance of (to me) embarrassing ineptitude. I must have been a pain to the music staff. Unsurprisingly, I rebelled and got involved in unofficial music-making and drama on my own terms. Thus it was on the stage at Forest, while acting in a play, that I met the girl who was to become my wife, Sue Jones.

For family reasons, I didn’t go to university when I left school. Instead, I joined the Inland Revenue and, in retrospect, got a good training in finance, managing people, and how to investigate things, but my heart wasn’t in it and it was never going be my life’s work. After five years, I became the Practice Manager for the doctors at Bethnal Green Medical Mission, which was as stimulating and demanding as I’d found the tax office not to be, and it was while I was there that I was encouraged to consider whether God was calling me to ordained ministry.

I shall be forever grateful that I was required to undertake a two-year part-time course first. The Aston Training Scheme was led by a charismatic and inspirational priest, Laurie Green, later to be Bishop of Bradwell. He encouraged his students to think, to question and to challenge what we were being told, and to look for God in surprising places, and certainly outside the theological traditions and presuppositions that we’d arrived with .

That probably meant that when I arrived at Oak Hill College, an establishment with a Conservative Evangelical flavour, I was never going to be an easy student to teach. With the confidence that Aston had given me, I made no secret that I wasn’t going to take everything that the college stood for without giving it a rigourous going-over. To my surprise, the student body elected me as their Student President, even though I was a long way from being most people’s idea of an Oak Hill student. I would still never claim to be a ‘Conservative Evangelical’ – I’m probably an Open Evangelical if that label means anything to you – even though I have a lot of time for the more gracious members of that tradition.

So, did all those places of education make me who I am today?  Certainly, I have something of the multi-cultural perspective of Akosombo, in Ghana, and of Malmesbury, in the East End of the 1960s. My musical skills, such as they are, came from my five years in St Paul’s Cathedral choir, and maybe Forest gave me a confidence and can-do attitude that has enabled me to get to places that I wouldn’t have reached otherwise. Aston gave me to ability and the tools to question and Oak Hill gave me theological skills.

I’m grateful for them all, and yet I’m more than all that. I’m also the product of my family, of a whole range of life experiences and, I would suggest, of the love of God who has been close to me through thick and thin. Am I a motorbike enthusiast, like all my maternal grandmother’s grandsons, because she rode a bike when it was almost unheard-of for a woman to do so?  Am I an ‘East Ender’ because my father’s family lived in East London for generations? Do I have a heart for refugees because my earliest-known ancestors came to Spitalfields from France as Huguenot refugees in 1750?
Maybe so, but the past can only tell us so much. I’m at least as interested in the future. I’m proud of my children – Sarah, Thomas and Rachel, all of whom are lovely and creative people. I’d like to think that I’ve played a part in their education and in making them the people they are. Will they be able to trace the influences of my education in their lives?  Only time – and God – knows.

Things fall apart…

Posted June 24, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

 

THE SECOND COMING

 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

 

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W B Yeats

Getting things into perspective…

Posted February 16, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

  
Things like this Yew tree help us to get things into perspective.  It was planted just after the Black Death, in the 1350s, and was already two hundrd years old when Queen Elizabeth 1 came to the throne. It was over four hundred years old at the time of the signing of US Declaration of Independence. Now, more than six hundred and fifty years since it was planted, it is still quietly growing where it has always stood, in the churchyard of All Saints’ Church, Wootton Courtenay, in Somerset, beside the path where, throughout that time, generations of parishioners have walked to worship each Sunday.

The Barnabas factor: The secret behind England’s 1966 World Cup triumph?

Posted February 14, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

As every football fan knows, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were at the heart of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup. All three came up through West Ham’s renowned youth system and were nurtured by Ron Greenwood, still West Ham’s greatest manager ever.
When, as a star-struck fan, I met Ron Greenwood back in the 1990s, I asked him what his secret was. To my surprise, he gave me one word: ‘Encouragement. It’s encouragement’. ‘My job’, he explained, ‘was to encourage young players to give the best of their God-given talents. Encouragement is what it’s all about.’

I remembered that recently when I heard of the death – at the age of 99 – of a teacher from my school days, John Scott. Back when I was a rebellious 16-year-old, my school report reflected the frustration of most who taught me. The first entry was ‘He has done no work at all and will certainly fail’, and it got worse after that. Scott was the one teacher who saw past the adolescent angst to give me some hope for the future. ‘In his own way, and in his own time,’ Scott wrote, ‘Elwin will be very successful’. Those words of encouragement were to be important to me in making it through those difficult teenage years and on to life as a reasonably well-balanced adult.

Both Ron Greenwood and John Scott were practitioners of a skill that we see in Barnabas, a character in the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. ‘Barnabas’ was a nickname that meant ‘son of encouragement’, and the man with that name in the Bible demonstrated encouragement in a number of ways. He was generous with his own resources. He was welcoming and hospitable. And he wasn’t jealous of other people’s abilities, but helped draw out those gifts to everyone’s benefit. You can read about Barnabas in chapters 4-11 of Acts.

Encouragement isn’t a difficult skill. It’s not something that we need to do a three-year course in to be good at. It’s something that every one of us can practise. And it can make the world of difference to the people around us. We can choose to criticise, and to knock each other down at every opportunity, and the result will be failure. But when we choose to be the sort of people who encourage each other, to build each other up, to praise successes and to see beyond setbacks, remarkable things can happen. Encouragement can help all of us to give the very best of our God-given talents, with positive results for everyone. It’s the Barnabas factor.

Ron Greenwood encouraged West Ham’s World Cup heroes to achieve greatness. John Scott encouraged me to make the best of who I am. What could a bit of encouragement do for the people YOU know and love?

Grace Manieson-Annancy, founder of ‘Grace’s Place’ RIP

Posted January 25, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

 

I’m very sad to have heard the news today that Grace Manieson-Annancy has passed away, at home, in Akosombo, Ghana. After retiring as Principal of Akosombo International School, where she nurtured hundreds of grateful pupils, she devoted herself to serving the poorer local children by teaching them to read. 

She started with just a few books but her readers flocked to her and she turned no-one away. With the help of friends in both Ghana and the UK, she set about building a permanent reading centre where children could learn in safety. We know it as ‘Grace’s Place’, of course, and it will stand for many years to come as testimony to a teacher whose love for children drove her to greater and greater efforts on their behalf. 

We’re thinking tonight of Grace’s husband, Archdeacon Felix Annancy, her sisters and her wider family, as well as the many, many former students of AIS who will be in mourning at her passing. 
Thank God for Grace. May she rest in peace and rise in Glory.

East London D-day hero chaplain remembered

Posted January 7, 2016 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

A South London woman has unearthed a tragic story of a Leytonstone chaplain killed in World War Two after discovering his name on an antique suitcase.  As the local paper, the News Shopper, reported, ‘Jenni Crane, 35, bought the suitcase last year when shopping in Crystal Palace with the intention of using it as decoration and storage for her shoe collection.  But when she discovered the name Rev GEM Parry and E11 postcode written on it, she started a journey of discovery about the life of the military chaplain.

George Edward Maule Parry was briefly the curate at John’s Church, in Church Lane, Leytonstone, in the early 1940s before he was killed on June 6, 1944.  Parry was serving with the 6th airborne division and was killed aged 29 while defending wounded men during a German raid on a medical aid post.’

The Argus, Melbourne, reported on July 12, 1944: “Parry was killed with a knife or bayonet while defending helpless wounded men during a German raid on a medical aid post. The Germans set upon the wounded in a frenzied state, shooting and bayoneting them, Rev. Parry threw himself between the Nazis and the wounded troops.”

Military chaplains are unarmed.

Writing in the Times shortly after Parry’s death, the Bishop of Barking described his local links: “The Rev.George Edward Maule Parry, C.F., was one of four sons of Canon Allen James Parry, till recently Vicar of St. Peter’ s, Upton Cross, and Rural Dean of West Ham. All four were on service, two in the Regular Army. Two have now given their lives for their country, Peter in North Africa in November, 1942, and now George in France. George was educated at Farnfields Preparatory School, Bickley; Weymouth College; King’ s College, London; and he was trained for Holy Orders at Bishop’ s College, Cheshunt. I have watched his career from childhood. At every turn he had amply fulfilled expectations, and I entertained high hopes of him when he began his ministry under Canon Brown, Vicar of St. John’ s, Leytonstone, a masterhand, in 1938.His vicar died on the day that war began and George was severely tested in having to take charge of an important parish while still scarcely fledged. He won the love of the people, as he did some months later when he took charge of a Forest Gate parish, whose vicar was a chaplain to the forces. In 1941 he joined up as a chaplain himself and served for 19 months in West Africa. In 1942 he was transferred to the Parachute Regiment with which he preceeded to the invasion. Already several fine chaplains have lost their lives in France. George Parry adds lustre to their number.”

Jenni Crane is making BBC Radio 4 programme about the forgotten soldier, speaking to antiques experts while searching for family members. Alongside the radio documentary, Ms Crane has started a campaign to get recognition for Padre Parry and for him to be awarded a medal.

How should we respond to evil?

Posted November 15, 2015 by Elwin Cockett
Categories: Uncategorized

Benjamin Geary

This is the gist of an address given at a Remembrance service at Forest School on the Sunday after more that 120 people were killed in Paris by ISIS terrorists.

How should we respond in the face of Evil?  To answer that question, I would like to offer the examples of a member of staff here at Forest who was awarded the Victoria Cross and of a nurse who was executed by firing squad. I might just include Martin Luther King and Doctor Who as well.

The first of those, Benjamin Geary, we can learn about from Forest School’s superb on-line database of school magazines. He was a teacher in what was then called the junior school, and the School Magazine of Christmas 1914 shows most importantly that he was a regular in the Old Foresters cricket team, but also mentions that in September he and two colleagues had left to serve their King and Country. The magazine makes light of this with a dreadful pun about him eating cold chicken in ‘fowl’ weather, and looks forward to him being ‘back with us next year’.

The tone a year later, in the Christmas 1915 edition was only slightly less up-beat. It offers ‘our heartiest congratulations to Lieutenant Geary on his being awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the battle for ‘Hill 60’ near Ypres’, and gives an account of his conspicuous bravery and determination in the face of the enemy. His Corps Commander, addressing the Battalion the next day said ‘it was the most magnificent thing yet in the whole war’.  Those words that will have disturbing echoes for anyone familiar with Blackadder goes forth or Oh what a lovely war.

Of course, at that point, only a year into the conflict, they could not have known of the horrors that were to come – of the Battle of the Somme, in which the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties on the first day alone (more than a million men were to die in that battle) or of Passchendaele, where 400,000 further died.

Three years later, in the Christmas 1918 edition, the school magazine would record that 98 former pupils of Forest School had died in the Forces – and that from a school which, at any one time, only had about 100 on its roll.

We can only imagine what Benjamin Geary saw or went through in the latter stages of the war. We do know that when it was all over he went to train for the priesthood and later returned to the Army as a Chaplain, bringing comfort to the soldiers and officers who might have to fight again. Was this, perhaps, a response to the evil and suffering he had seen?

Edith Cavell

1915 also saw the execution by firing squad of Edith Cavell by the German occupying forces in Belgium. Her response to the evil and suffering she observed was to care for the injured, regardless of which side they’d been fighting for.  She was arrested for helping wounded Allied soldiers and sentenced to death.

Receiving communion on the night before she was to be shot, she said to the chaplain: “Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Both Geary and Cavell had seen what we are seeing now in Syria and Iraq – that war is rarely glorious and that most of the time the wrong people are its victims.

If you watched last week’s ‘Dr Who’ you will have heard him say “When we fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die.

You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn, How many hearts will be broken, How many lives shattered.”

Paris

So what is our response in the face of Evil? How are we to react to the events in Paris? To the killing of more than 120 innocent people by young men representing a perverse distortion of Islam?

Martin Luther King, who paid with his own life for opposing evil, said this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I think those words are in tune with both Benjamin Geary – the VC hero who became a chaplain – and Edith Cavell – the nurse who was determined not to have hatred or bitterness towards anyone.

They’re also in tune with the members of our armed forces who risked their lives this year in the battle against the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. There are thousands of people who owe their lives to British Army engineers, medics and squaddies who built and ran field hospitals to combat a disease that was decimating the population. The people of West Africa will remember that when Boko Haram is long gone.

Finally, let me quote the Archbishop of Canterbury:

“The sorrow in Paris is heart breaking and the evil of those who planned and perpetrated the Paris atrocities is beyond measure or words. We weep with the victims and with the bereaved.   France is deeply wounded but will prevail with that courage and strength she has always shown. Wherever there is such wickedness Christians believe that Christ suffers afresh in the suffering of every human being. In solidarity let us be the source of consolation.”

“The violence of this evil group brings terror to all, including in the Muslim world where its cowardly acts are opposed by many. This is a global and generational struggle against an evil cult that chooses death and fear. We must choose life and hope, to overcome their hate with the power of God’s love. It is in solidarity across all faiths and none, and with all human beings, rather than in the victimisation of any, that we will find the way to defeat the demonic curse of terrorism. Christians are called (and whether you’re a Christian or not, I would urge you to do the same) to stand, like Jesus, with the suffering and broken and to oppose evil and fear with all their strength.”