In 2005 we reported that over the previous six years the Lord had given us the opportunity to visit some 25 schools in Northamptonshire, although strictly speaking only two of the schools were outside the nominal boundary of Northampton town. We also described, briefly, what was involved in this outreach. This all began from the first visit of the Ayrshire (now Scottish) Bible Exhibition in 1999. The main factor in making contact with new schools was the fact that this exhibition was a regular biennial event which was enthusiastically received by them and its value as a teaching resource for Religious Education shared with other schools. As was also mentioned, there was confusion in some schools caused by using the ‘Gospel Hall’ as our title, and so we adopted the name ‘CSALT’ for the work so as not to be mistaken for Jehovah’s Witnesses. As the title of the article suggests, the acronym stands for ‘Christian School Assembly Link Team’ and we are welcomed into state, Church of England and Catholic schools.
In 2004/5 the schools’ system in Northampton was reorganized from three tiers to two and, after prayerful consideration, the decision was made to focus on the primary level as the material used was more suited to that younger age range. As a consequence of the change a number of staff moved between schools and, more importantly, to schools that weren’t visited by us. This resulted in invitations to more schools being extended.
By 2008 the number of schools visited had increased to 36. All the assemblies/Religious Education lessons were conducted by one brother, although he was supported by his presence and prayers by another, Denis Morley, who from the very start of the work had asked if he could attend. He had stated, ‘I don’t want to do anything, boy, I just would love to be there’. With this number of schools it was proving difficult to fit in any more, as assembly timings would not allow this. In an answer to prayer brother Ian MacEwan came forward to declare his exercise to join the work. With Ian’s availability we thought that it would be a good idea to plan to approach new schools to see if we could visit them. This seemed an appropriate action, after all, to quote Benjamin Franklin, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’. A flyer-style brochure was prepared, which included some endorsements from senior staff in schools visited, and sent prayerfully to various schools with an accompanying letter to introduce CSALT. These were followed up by an email to the head. The response was disappointing, for whatever reason, and only a handful of schools invited us to attend.
Although we were a little disappointed in this outcome, we were about to see God working in His own way to open doors. In the period 2009 to 2014 the number of schools visited increased to 64, not as a result of our brochure but due to a large number of teachers changing schools to ones we did not visit and arranging to have us visit their new location. In 2014 God used another change in the education system to open doors for us. A large number of Head Teachers were retiring, or opting to stand down from the position. It was proving difficult to recruit/appoint new heads so the role of ‘Executive Head’ became more evident. This was where one person was head over two, or more, schools. The outcome for the schools’ work was that we were invited to attend the other school/s linked to the executive head. Some of these were ones we had already contacted with our brochure to no effect. In one case this led to us adding three new schools to our ‘list’. As we stand at the end of 2017 we visit 77 schools truly across the county now and, over recent years, only four schools have stopped our visits, for various reasons, but following a change of head, one of these has been in contact requesting that we visit them again.
As already mentioned, Ian MacEwan joined the work in 2008, joining the writer and Denis Morley. Bill Culley joined in 2011 as the work was expanding. In 2013 dear brother Denis was called home and his presence in the work has left an indelible mark, one that is remembered emotionally by many staff who knew him, even today – a great testimony to his godliness and impact on the work, even though he ‘just wanted to be there’. In 2015, sadly, Bill Culley suffered a serious accident at home which, up to now, has left him in a wheelchair. However, Brian Barton volunteered to fill the gap, saying that although he wasn’t exercised about the work we shouldn’t cancel any visits that Bill was due to make. He would fulfil them. As he has become involved Brian has ‘warmed’ to the work and is a frequent contributor. Recently, Pete Burditt from the Osborne Road Assembly, Northampton, retired and was exercised about the work and is now fully involved in it.
The main visual aid for school assemblies remains the Betty Lukens flannel graph system, and it is used to simply tell Bible stories, informing the children of God’s love for them, His hatred of sin and that Christ died because of our sin. As each member has joined, they have been encouraged to use whatever they feel comfortable with. However, they have nearly all adopted the same system, having seen the impact it makes on the children and its popularity with the staff.
At the same time, there was the desire to seek opportunities to present the gospel in a more complete and direct manner. In 2014 the centenary of World War 1 gave us that opening in the form of the account of William Coltman’s life. He was the most highly decorated non-commissioned officer in the British Army in the conflict, being awarded the VC, among many other medals, serving as a stretcher bearer. When the first two schools requested the presentation, titled ‘Two Crosses’, using a ‘Tales of Truth’ PowerPoint presentation, Tim and John Coltman (William’s great grandson and grandson respectively) came down to make the presentation. This proved very successful and many more schools requested it, so much so that the Coltmans couldn’t possibly commit to the programme. Therefore, CSALT purchased a copy and adapted it for our own use. It has been used, particularly during November, over the last three years and will be offered even after the centenary is over.
Another desire was to present the Christmas story in full, detailing God’s great plan of salvation, starting with God’s eternal being, through the nativity, life, crucifixion, resurrection and return of our Lord. In 2015, after many hours of intense deliberation, the exhibition displays and worksheet were finally produced and schools were offered it as an option for their year 5/6 pupils. The exhibition was accepted and valued by the nine schools where it was shown. This is now the main focus of our work in December, and not only to the senior pupils but to all ages.
A third presentation and opportunity to present the gospel came from a conversation with a head teacher involving the work done in supporting believers in Romania via ‘Romania Outreach’. We were asked to talk to their year 5/6 pupils about what was done and this was developed further to offer to all schools as ‘Opportunities to help others’. The message in this presentation being that anything we do in this regard pales into insignificance when we consider what Christ has done for us.
A recent development is our participation in a school’s ‘Big Question’ sessions. One of the Church of England schools visited had started a Big Questions initiative whereby pupils could post questions which puzzled/concerned/worried them on a board and these would be dealt with by staff on a weekly basis. On a recent visit the progress made arose in conversation with the head who confessed that it was starting to fade away, one reason being that staff involved either didn’t have the knowledge/experience or feel equipped to answer some of them. As earlier, we repeated our willingness to support the head in these sessions and this will commence in 2018.
Bearing in mind the lesson learned earlier about expanding, we plan to contact schools again, offering our ‘service’. We plan to start with schools we used to visit but no longer do, through to those where we know that staff are aware of what we do, and also to those schools we have had no contact with to-date. We are now a truly Northamptonshire outreach, visiting schools throughout the county and, as travelling time is becoming more of an issue, we will, initially, be concentrating on schools within the town.
In the future we would look to adapt elements of the Christmas exhibition to focus on the Easter events in a new presentation, and, as ever, in conversation with staff, be sensitive to areas/subjects where we could be involved and, especially, present the gospel.
As ever, in all these things we would value the prayer support of the saints. This, especially as issues which are contrary to scripture, such as sexuality, gender and even the place of assemblies in schools at all, are being pushed even at primary stages.