The report (below) regarding the Churches Education Commission appeared in the 2018 Trinity Methodist Theological College newsletter. The CEC seems to be very much on the defensive in the lead up to the court case against religious instruction scheduled to proceed in 2019.
New CEO Geoff Burton
They have appointed a new CEO (Geoff Burton) who has a strong background in media and marketing. This may be in response to the damning statement made by previous CEO, Stephanie Sewell that the CEC would like churches to “…own your local school…”. They surely realise that they are literally fighting for survival and have brought in someone to try and turn around the stampede out the religious instruction door. The CEC has lost nearly a fifth of their participating schools in only the last 2 years, down from 650 to 520.
I doubt this will do them much good, as Stephanie isn’t the only one to accidentally say what she’s really thinking while representing the CEC. Past CEC National Director, David Mulholland once referred to schools as a “mission field” and said he considered them a “9-3 window” for “evangelizing people”. They’ve also made false claims that their material is “Ministry of Education Approved”, which was ruled against in an Advertising Standards Authority case in 2007 (view pdf) although they continued to make the claim for at least 5 years afterwards. Their member churches and even their own staff often can’t contain their enthusiasm in “winning kids for Jesus” either. It will be an uphill battle to convince a judge that they intend to educate and not indoctrinate! Come on Geoff, tell us what you really think!
Rebranding to “Life Choices”
In 2019, they are also shifting from the “Churches Education Commission” moniker to a more innocuous “Life Choices” branding. This is also the title of one of their syllabuses. You know… the ones that end every class with an invitation to pray with the church volunteer in your kid’s secular school.
They say that the new name “better reflects our place in a more multi-cultural society”. Pretty words but utter drivel. The cultural change in NZ is mainly coming from immigrants who are Christians. The real problems they face are the declining levels of Christian affiliation and greater awareness of the privileged access they have to promote Christian religious faith in supposedly secular state primary schools. They also claim that sessions are suitable for all kids. More nonsense. How is a lesson promoting belief that Jesus is the son of God suitable for a Muslim or an Atheist child?
“While sessions are taught from a Christian perspective, the teaching is open, non-judgemental and appropriate for all children in school environments, no matter their belief value.”
I noticed that they seem to have responded to one of my criticisms of their promotional material and changed the “Info for Parents” page (as at 14/12/2018) on their website to make it clear that they teach Christian beliefs. While this change is positive, it makes their claim above that the classes are suitable for all children look silly. They seem to think that as long as their volunteers preface the lesson with “Christians believe”, the lessons are suddenly academic and educational. If schools wanted to teach real education about religion, there is no need for the CEC to enter our schools and we would not want solely education about Christianity anyway.
“CRE teachers teach Christian beliefs: The Christian belief that Jesus is God’s Son…”
“CRE teachers are trained to use language such as “Christians believe…” or “The Bible says…”.”
They are looking for other means of access
The newsletter also talks about their Champions (as opposed to kids who opt out!) programme growing and the initiation of an after-school programme. This creates new challenges for the fight against religious instruction, as schools are technically closed at lunchtimes and religious after-school activities, promoted by the school, are unrestricted in legislation. They also announce a new programme called SHIFT for intermediate schools and are promoting Lifewalk chaplains. The chaplains are especially concerning, due to the mental health crisis that seems to be gripping our youth and support for students will be hard to resist for cash-strapped schools. The hook in the offer is access for a religious group. We should be offering schools funding for unbiased, trained, professional counsellors.
The newsletter from the CEC to the Methodist Church follows…
CEC report in Methodist Theological College newsletter
We appreciate the ongoing support from the Methodist Church towards the work of the Churches Education Commission (CEC) in New Zealand. We value the commitment and endorsement of the Methodist Church towards CEC and our work in schools throughout New Zealand, and appreciate the partnership we have with you.
CEC is currently delivering the Life Choices/Champions programmes in over 600 schools reaching over 60,000 children and run by 2,500 volunteers on a weekly basis.
CEC is undergoing some exciting and great change with the development of our brand. This has been an extensive process and still a work in progress.
CEC is grateful for the 140-year legacy that we are a part of. Although CEC will remain and continue to exist in the background, as of January 2019, our name and brand in schools and with funders will change to Life Choices.
The heartbeat remains the same, to ‘Inspire Every Child To Make Positive Life Choices’. Life Choices comes from our vision, and this name better reflects our place in a more multi-cultural society. As advised about, CEC will continue to remain and exist in the background.
Here at CEC we are committed to the continual development of our curriculum so that we have confidence in what we provide our teachers for use in their CRE programmes. The aim of the Life Choices curriculum is to be acceptable to NZ state schools while maintaining the biblical basis of Christian Religious Education. Thus, Life Choices utilises the Key Competencies and values of the NZ curriculum. These specific competencies and values contribute to specific learning outcomes for each session. While sessions are taught from a Christian perspective, the teaching is open, non-judgemental and appropriate for all children in school environments, no matter their belief value. Using a variety of teaching methods, students are encouraged to consider their values in relation to Christian values and develop a sound, ethical framework. Students are encouraged to develop their critical thinking skills and apply the values and teachings to their own lives.
Life Choices adds values by meeting the needs of today’s schools, by ensuring the Life Choices curriculum is relevant, flexible and adaptable to every school community.
We have reached a significant milestone in our history with the creation of our own curriculum including 3 years worth of content, across six different manuals. Completing this multi-year task will put curriculum development into a continuous improvement mode and allow us to start new initiatives.
Our large-group style CRE programme, Champions, continues to grow in a number of schools throughout the country. Champions provides an alternative to the typical Classroom style lesson. A Large Group Presenter or team of teachers combine together to present the programme in a suitable large space, such as a school hall. We present a high-energy style lesson incorporating songs, games, stories and often digital media. Champions now also has its own unique version of the Life Choices curriculum which has more multi-media resources plus a different set of games/activities, all tailored to the large group environment.
After School Programmes
CEC has started its first after school programme in a school in Auckland. This opportunity stemmed from a school not having the time during their school time for our Life Choices programmes, however acknowledged the benefit of it and has given us a space after school on their school grounds. We are looking into ways we can grow this area and implementing it across the nation.
Intermediate Age Group
CEC is currently creating a programme to take into Intermediate Schools.
This programme will be called SHIFT with our first series tackling the topic of Identity. The name SHIFT is inspiration from the idea of shifting and changing the youth culture of comparison, unhealthy self-image, low self-esteem and suicide to an image of self-worth, confidence and boldness. Our goal is to shift and change the social image that has been put on young people as we want them to be the leading examples and figures in our society.
This programme will run for four weeks in an Intermediate School where there will be a presenter & media element. The media element will be of someone in our community, sharing their testimony on how they tackled different issues.
Once our programme is completed, we will offer the school a chaplain who will then commit to 4 hours per week, to journey alongside students and offer support to teachers and staff.
Our National Conference for 2018 (called ‘Invig’) took place on August 10th & 11th in Auckland. We saw over 360 CRE volunteers, Chaplains, Children’s Pastors and Leaders attend. We’ve had great response from delegates who spoke highly of the workshops & keynote sessions that we had. We are looking forward to INVIG 2019 and plan to increase our base from 360 to 450 delegates.
I Heart My Local School
For the past three years, we’ve placed huge time and energy into creating our Life Choices Curriculum. Now that it is completed, our heart is to engage the local church with their local schools.
We firmly believe that local schools are the heart of the community. This initiative will be a collaboration with Lifewalk (our chaplaincy arm), inviting churches to explore in how they can partner with us in building stronger communities by investing in their local school.
CEC National Staff Team
In October 2018, we will welcome our new CEO, Geoff Burton who will be replacing Stephanie Sewell. Stephanie has been a great asset to this organisation and has paved the way in many aspects of what we do and how we do it. She has built a great team at National office and also strengthened the connections throughout our regions.
Geoff Burton comes with a passion to see the children of this nation reach their full potential and to impact their lives for good. He has taught CRE for the past eight years and comes with a strong background in marketing and media.
We are excited about the new developments and initiatives taking place within CEC and we’re looking forward to a bright future. Thank you for the opportunity to present our report to the Methodist Church, and thank you for your ongoing dedication to CEC.