Photo: David continues to see God at work at Albion Park High School through the chaplaincy program.
By Stephen Cathcart
The bell rings. Students scramble across the playground. Teachers begin ushering children into classrooms.
David Rankin, a member of Southern Illawarra Church of Christ, is caught in the flurry of activity as he prepares for his weekly engagement with Year 7 students in the Special Religious Education (SRE) curriculum at Albion Park High School.
David has been teaching SRE at the school for the past six years. At times, it has been a lonely battle in a secular environment. Other times it has been a rewarding and fruitful ministry. In between, it has required faithfulness.
As a result, he has built and established relationships with staff and students. In 2019, the school leadership approached David and asked him if he would be interested in partnering with them to launch a chaplaincy program. Last year, he officially became the high school chaplain and now works three days a week – two as a chaplain and one as an SRE teacher.
“I still pinch myself at the thought,” David says. “Having the principal say, ‘We want you to be our chaplain because we trust you’, was a wonderful endorsement of the hard work and dedication invested into the school over the years. This drives home for me the importance of working through difficulties and challenges together with the common goal of putting the students’ needs first.”
In his chaplaincy role, David established the ‘Strength’ program in the school. Developed and written by Hillsong Church, the program aims to equip adolescent males with the knowledge and skills to discover who they are and the person they want to become. The school chooses the young men to be part of the program, and then a 10-week adventure begins. The program has proved successful, and the school is keen to expand it.
“I was cleaning up after a recent Strength graduation where we all shared pizza to celebrate the students’ achievements when a staff member approached me and asked, “I don’t know exactly what you do, but is it making a difference?” Excitedly, I explained that a student just shared during the graduation that through this program, they are no longer angry. To which the staff member replied with a smile, “That’s so true. I’ve noticed a huge change in him. Sorry, David, whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up.”
Over the past 12 months, David has seen an increasing acceptance of his role at the school. This year, he was asked to do the ‘Statement of Dedication’ to start the school term, write an article each fortnight in the local school newsletter, and has been provided with an office space. This space gives him a place to talk with students and provide a ‘safe space’ at break times during the school day.
“I have always longed for God to blow my mind, and each day at the school, He does exactly that. The opportunities that God brings forth are vast and varied – no two days are the same. Relying upon God’s strength and direction in each conversation or interaction with either staff or student is challenging and invigorating.”
Through the work of chaplaincy and SRE, a student-led Bible study has begun once a week at lunchtime. Students read the Bible and support one another through prayer and sharing.
Southern Illawarra Church of Christ continues to pray and support David in prayer and support. It has been exciting to see the organic growth of this school ministry. I wonder, what is next?
*Stephen Cathcart is Senior Minister at Southern Illawarra Church of Christ