What’s it like to be in charge of the spiritual welfare of 1600 adolescents?
Paul Sanderson MBE says it’s a privilege and has written, exclusively for HEART readers
Paul Sanderson is Chaplain of The Littlehampton Academy, a Woodard School. He is married to Heather and they have four children. Zack,17, and Levi, 14, are both at TLA with Honor, 9, and Promise, 5, both at White Meadows Primary school in Wick.
Paul has worked with children and young people in West Sussex since 1996. He was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2006.
The working week starts Sunday evening as I check my notes for the big start every Monday at The Littlehampton Academy (TLA).
This week’s theme is Fair Trade so I make sure my slides and film clips are all working and rehearse my words and stories in my mind. This normally leads to a disrupted night’s sleep as I change and adjust in my active brain!
Alarm goes off at 5.55 and I listen to the news in the shower. They mention Fair Trade! Good – that will help the 1% of the 1600 students who listen to Five Live in the morning!
I cycle to work and love the cold breeze on the face to wake me up. Six months in and it still has the wow factor. Our new build is fantastic. Big spaces and high tech classrooms. It’s a quality space to work and to learn.
7am: all is still and peaceful in a building ready to welcome just under 2,000 people every day. Most days a few students come in early and sit in the chapel. I don’t ask why they are early but I am aware that for some the Academy is a happier place than home in the morning.
Quick check on the e-mails, then it’s get ready for our all academy assembly. 1600 students and staff gather together in our main hall and atrium for 20 minutes of thoughts, reflection and, I hope, inspiration.
It may only be a 10 minute talk, but the time and the energy that goes into making it as fun and as memorable as possible is hours. But it’s worth it because of the buzz of all being together to start the week.
Seated under our mission statement of ‘Life to the full’, we light a big candle and spend a moment in silence. Then I tell some fair trade stories and make a staff member a cup of fair trade coffee. I hold up a home brand ready to eat lasagne in one hand and a banana in the other. I ask just one question: “We care about what is in our meat but do we care about who picks our fruit?”
The school is dismissed to go about their day and I meet up with a former student I am mentoring who is back for four weeks to work alongside some teachers to get experience of life in front of a class.
I normally have a five minute catch up with the head. We chat about the weekend gone and the week ahead. I take some mental notes to pray about later.
I then like to walk about and pray under my breath: for the staff and the students’ peace and their learning. You bump into people, find out how they are. I pop over to the collage and check up on the team. I wish I did that more, you can get so stuck to a desk and a computer.
Had a quick meeting about a fundraising event some of the college students are doing to raise money for their up and coming trip to Rwanda. I am so excited about seeing them teach and run an activity week in Kigali for street kids. One of the big perks of the job is inspiring students to serve others in the local community and the world. With trips to Kenya, Thailand, India and Ethiopia in the last three years, I love leading them into life-changing environments.
At first break the chapel fills up quickly with friends catching up with the weekend. It’s a good chance for me to see if all are ok. We can get 60+ in at lunch and break and the peace and stillness has a bit of a break too!
We had the GSUS live lorry on site for two weeks, so I visited the team of local church volunteers who are taking the lessons. It a multi media interactive opportunity for the students to learn about Jesus by helping three different “virtual” people deal with issues such as fear, forgiveness and rejection. It’s a great tool that gets everyone talking and saw 1000 students go through it.
Lunch time comes and after the feeding of the 2000 in 40 minutes I sit at my desk and start to plan next week’ss assembly. I read, search for images and film clips and then write it up so that the staff have got some notes and questions to help them with the weekly discussion time every Wednesday.
A staff member pops in. She wants to chat about her father-in-law dying over the weekend: the loss, the pain, the tiredness.
I listen and break out the tissues and by the end we are laughing about some work related thing and back they go, hopefully more at peace.
The end of day comes at 3pm and I stand at the main door to say goodbye. A few “keep cools” and “be safe” and the odd high five sends them off back home to all the joys and challenges that await.
It’s amazing what you can do without interruption from 3.30 till 5. E-mails, letters, notes of encouragement and planning with always a prayer bouncing around my mind while I type.
Then it’s a quick cycle home to my own mini school. Tea and catch-up with the family. Story time with some and the news with the others until it’s just me and Heather as there are no meetings tonight. I always sleep well on Monday night as the week is off and running and the next day is soon here with who knows what challenges waiting round the corner.
It’s a real privilege to be serving God by serving The Littlehampton Academy community. To listen to the needs, to inspire all around and to see how I can get people involved in making a difference. A difference to themselves, those around them and the world in which we live.