It must have been very hard for those young girls all those years ago to wave goodbye to their parents as they sailed away in large ships. Their parents were missionaries travelling to faraway lands to serve God by working in the service of others. As missionaries they were going on an adventure, but, as in all real adventures, there were risks involved. It may be that they would not return home, but would die overseas, especially if their health failed. But unless they took a risk, going into unknown and unfamiliar places, they would not be able to achieve their goal of serving others in the way in which they were being called. Many people back home thought they were mad. What would make somebody undertake such a difficult journey, leaving the security and family of their familiar, home country? But these brave people were willing to go against popular opinion for something in which they believed so strongly.
Yet these difficult occasions helped shape the values and form the character of this school, clearly fixing three priorities to which the school has been faithful over its 175 years. 1. Serving God by working in the service of others. 2. A willingness to be adventurous and take risks in order to achieve this. 3. A willingness to go against popular opinion for something in which they believed so strongly. These are fantastic principles, especially at a time when so much of our society encourages us to work hard and earn buckets of money for our own personal use. Those three principles challenge today’s focus on self and being self-centred.
In all of this, the ship has figured highly. The ship on which those missionaries sailed. The ship which is part of the school’s coat of arms and can be seen on the jackets of many here today and the Ship which is the name of the theatre in the senior school.
Ships and boats play a big part in the Bible. In that first reading we heard about Jesus sitting in a ship, or a boat, teaching the people. He then told the owner of the boat, Simon Peter, to set out for deep waters and put out the nets for a catch. Simon and his friends were experienced fishermen – they had been fishermen all their lives: they knew all about fish and best way to catch them. They understood which winds would be favourable for a good catch; they had an idea where the fish would be when the water reached certain temperatures; they could ‘read’ nature, what the presence of certain birds was saying about the fly-life the fish would be attracted to under the water. So what could this man who was not a fisherman, teach them? In the end, they decided to take a risk and go against all their traditional and accepted way of doing things and fish in the deep water as Jesus asked. The result was a magnificent haul of fish. After this, they became followers of Jesus, which led them to serve others and find themselves on even more adventures. Those three principles became important for those following Jesus Christ: 1. Serving God by working in the service of others. 2. A willingness to be adventurous and take risks in order to achieve this. 3. A willingness to go against popular opinion. These are great principles not just for following in school, but for shaping our lives.
As Walthamstow Hall sails into the next chapter of its life, many things will change. Subjects will change, teachers will change, students will certainly change, buildings will change. Change brings new life and new energy. But my hope and prayer is that in all the midst of all the changes, these three principles will be like the rudder of a ship and guide the school into the future: 1. Serving God by working in the service of others. 2. A willingness to be adventurous and take risks in order to achieve this. 3. A willingness to go against popular opinion for something in which they believed so strongly.
Reading: Luke 5.1-9
Sermon preached at St. Nicholas’ Church, Sevenoaks, for 175th anniversary of Walthamstow Hall School, founded for the education of the daughters of overseas’ missionaries.
14th October, 2013.