I had a fascinating morning this morning as part of a panel of "religious experts" at my old high school. I don't think I've been back there more than once since I left in 1993 and it was familiar and strange all at once. Some curiously familair bits were, of course, some of the young people I work with who are part of Wycombe High and a few of them were in the year 12 session as well.
We covered some most thought-procoking topics including Human Rights in the UK (including extending detention periods for terror suspects and the Oxford Union hosting extremists in their debating chamber), International Human rights (the monks' protests in Burma and the Olympics in China given its human rights record), freedom of religious expression (wearing religious symbols at school and the appropriateness of dress for men and women according to some religious practices), medical ethics (contraception and abortion), sexual morality (legalisation of prostitution, homosexuality and adoption by same sex couples) and the role of women in religion (women priests and bishops).
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive before I got there as, due to a few communication confusions, I didn't know anything about what the topics to be discussed were going to be. Then when I got there it was most reassuring to meet two Franciscan nuns who knew much more than I did about the plans. They had that wonderful air of calm that those of religious orders often have (usually without knowing it in fact!) as I find with the brothers at Taize. I felt instantly calmer.
The debate itself was in fact really interesting. The girls were put in groups of ten with two of the issues (and some newspaper articles on the subject) to discuss and come up with questions for the panel. The best of these questions were then selected and the girls who came up with them then asked us.
I'm not sure whay but I got asked directly about legalisng prostitution and also made some contributions on religious attitudes to modest dress and the wearing of religious symbols. I also felt strongly enough to respond to something one of the other pannelists said. Someone suggested that countries where women wear "more clothes" have a lower level of sexual crime. I couldn't but comment on the implication that a woman is responsible if she gets sexually assaulted and in affirming the culpability of the attacker rather than the victim I got the one and only round of applause (and blushed!)
I think what was great was seeing some of my young people in their school setting but in a way that was perfectly natural and not intruding on them. I also got to chat to a group of muslim students who felt that their faith had not been represented in a way that was easily understood and would have liked to clarify things in places. I was able to chat to them about it an dthey very graciously commended me on my contribution (as did my young people but I think they're just biased!
I have to say the whole cut and thrust of debate really was thrilling - perhaps too much so though! I don't think I'll be progressing to Question Time just yet as the adrenalin really got pumping when someone said something contraversial!
Well I was brought down to earth rather successfully by the unique experience of our PCC this evening so I think that probably levels the day when all's told!