Lots of things exorcise clergy and among that long list of things is the issue of admission of children to church schools and the behavioral effects so precipitated.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the process in many places in Britain, let me summarize. You have a church school, often regarded as a good school to go to by local parents. In order to gain access to that school, there are many hoops through which to launch, significant among which is the one that attends to church attendance. In short, if you go to church you stand a better chance (and if you also live within the catchment area, that you own a blue car, that your dog is spotty, that you have never suffered from psoriasis, that you can claim a blood-line to Tharg the Caveman, that you speak fluent Mayan and that your roof is tiled with slates hewn from the rocks around the Rhonda Valley). To demonstrate church attendance, it has been known for people to, well, attend church so that their Supplementary Forms can be signed by a beneficent cleric and sent off to County Hall. The problem that some clerics have is that some of those who attended church for the School Forms did so only for the School Forms - the raggedy rascals.
I was challenged yesterday to express my views on this. I ought to say that I am a Governor at a church school so my view will be expressed responsibly, but a view I have and express it I will.
Let's start at the top. In church-life, we as Christians are taught to love our neighbours as ourselves. This is a basic tenet of the Christian faith which is therefore a basic tenet of schools under our care (in whatever form or level that care comes). I think that it falls apart if our church school will admit a practicing Christian who lives five miles away, but excludes Little Johnny from next door because he doesn't fancy Sunday School. If church excludes its neighbours then we get it wrong. However, I believe that a church school serves Christians in a good and healthy way, and in an ideal world I would choose a church school every time for my children (I ought to say that they don't attend a church school by dint of circumstance, but attend a very good school nearby). The ability to claim Christian discipleship is something that needs to be taken seriously, but to a reasonable limit, so that practicing Christians can find places for their children in schools that express openly the same ethos.
Back to these church-attending parents. Some fear that this 'use' of us as worshipping communities is inappropriate and difficult and that people just shouldn't do that sort of thing. Whilst I sympathize with the view, I have greater faith than that. As a vicar, I can never fully know why any of my parishioners come to church, let alone to denote them as altruistic or 'right'. Speaking only for myself, I only ever went to church for selfish reasons, that reason being so that I could build my relationship with God. Let us assume that we cannot form a two-class system of Genuine Christians and Faux Christians - and we make that assumption knowing that it is a distinction that cannot be evidenced. Unless I am mistaken, it not my job as Vicar to ask why they have entered my doors, but to be glad that they did and to make their experience of faith and church meaningful and appealing. Rather than writing them off as "mickey-takers", I welcome them as a gift from God.
So yes, a church school should offer a small percentage of its places for practicing Christians. I think most people would accept that as a reasonable thing to do. But it should be a small percentage, and a percentage that is not exercised over and above our basic Christian mandates to love and hospitality. As for the attending parents - let them have their forms. My job is to do what I can to keep them coming, not lament another family who stopped.