Although I grew up Episcopalian, I spent most of my adult years attending independent and non-denominational churches. My return to the Anglican church in 2007 was directly linked to my study of Charlotte Mason’s writings and my reflection on her ideas. In the fall of 2007, I discovered a small Anglican church plant in my community. The church was affiliated with the Anglican Mission in America and was under the authority of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. The first few Sundays that I visited the church, people would ask me how I had heard about the church, and why I was there.
One person who asked me this question was a priest named William. William did not normally attend our church, but he had been involved in the process of planting it. When I answered his question, I made a reference to Charlotte Mason. “Have you heard of Charlotte Mason?” I asked. He smiled and stared off into space. “Have I heard of Charlotte Mason,” he mused.
It turns out that many years before, William’s wife Anne had taught an adult Sunday school class on Charlotte Mason. She taught the class in the fall of 1997, and she called it “Nurturing Growing Souls: Parenting as Character Development.” Her primary texts were Parents and Children and Ourselves by Charlotte Mason. To this day I don’t know how Anne discovered Charlotte Mason. I don’t even know which editions of the books she used. The Andreola’s did not publish their edition of The Home Education Series until two years later!
I was fascinated that Anne had designed her class for parents – not for teachers, or even home educators. This fact was strangely reminiscent of how Charlotte Mason herself began to develop her Home Education Series – she began with a series of lectures about parenting, delivered to mothers in the Anglican Church. One of the mothers in my small Anglican church plant had attended Anne’s class. She gave me the notebook that she had assembled while attending the class. It contained pages of excerpts from Mason’s books, with carefully crafted comments and discussion questions. An amazing labor of love.
In a small church plant, there is a lot of work to be spread across a small number of people. My wife Barbara immediately volunteered to teach Sunday school for the children. We had both been deeply impacted by Lisa Cadora’s session during the second ChildLightUSA conference in 2006. Lisa’s session was entitled, “Charlotte Mason Meets Veggie-Tales.” Lisa helped us to see that the object of Sunday school is not to train children to give the right answer. Rather, the object is for the teacher to step into the background so the children can discover Jesus.
In Lisa’s 2006 session, she suggested Godly Play as a possible curriculum to use. Barbara embraced the idea. She implemented a Godly Play curriculum at our small church. Barbara was careful to not approach the class as a way to program the children to say the right thing at the right time. She heeded the warning from Charlotte Mason:
Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to convince of sin; and He is able to use the Word for this purpose, without risk of that hardening of the heart in which our clumsy dealings too often result. (Vol. 1, p. 349)
Instead, Barbara would present a Bible story, and then allow the children to interact with the story. Although the method is not exactly narration as prescribed by Charlotte Mason, the method is similar in several ways. Through a variety of media, the children do re-tell the story. Sometimes they act it out, sometimes they tell it, and sometimes they portray it in art. And underlying all this activity is the conviction that the children already possess the internal spiritual resources required to form a conception of and relationship with God.
I think these concepts are also applicable when teaching adults. I recently taught an adult Sunday school class on the Bible itself, called “The Gift of God’s Word.” Barbara and I discussed how my approach to the class was influenced by Charlotte Mason. Instead of presenting a series of pre-digested doctrines and assertions, I helped the people in the class to draw their own conclusions from the Bible text itself. When I was in college, I learned this method through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It was called the “inductive” method. But I see now how well it aligns with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Adults, as well as children, “should know the Bible text” (Vol 1, p. 248).
During my first year or so in this new church, I would attend Morning Prayer once a week with a man who would later become our Deacon. Frequently the liturgy would include the following prayer (“A Prayer of St. Chrysostom”):
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.
It was impossible for me to pray this prayer without also reflecting on Mason’s own words:
By degrees children get that knowledge of God which is the object of the final daily prayer in our beautiful liturgy – the prayer of St Chrysostom – “Grant us in this world knowledge of Thy truth,” and all other knowledge which they obtain gathers round and illuminates this. (Vol. 6, p. 64)
When I would pray this prayer, I would no longer think of only “spiritual” disciplines like Bible reading and devotional reading. I would think of the wider variety of resources that God uses to help us grow in the knowledge of Him. I would think of poetry, literature, art, music, history, and science, and how a lifelong education in all of these subjects is ultimately a way for us to know God better.
As our church was solidifying its organization, the pastor asked me to consider serving on the leadership board. I was reluctant to do so because I thought it would take too much of my time away from homeschooling. While Barbara does most of the homeschooling during the day, I try to spend as much time in the evening as possible doing additional lessons with the kids. My concern was that more time with the church board would mean less time with my children. But the pastor asked me to at least pray about the decision, so I did.
As I prayed, I felt the Lord open my mind to a different perspective. I had been viewing my homeschool and my church as two separate fields of activity. Time spent in one would mean time not spent in the other. But I felt the Lord was showing me that my homeschool and my church were part of a single, larger entity. My home was in my church, and my church was in my home.
I believe that Charlotte Mason had a similar understanding of her House of Education. In her House of Education for training teachers, Sundays were as much a part of the required curriculum as every other day of the week. The entire class went to the same church together every Sunday morning. And the entire class had afternoon Bible “meditations” with Charlotte Mason every Sunday afternoon. There was no clear dividing line between school life and church life. Rather, school and church were part of a single, larger entity. In the House of Education, one did not exist without the other.
Essex Cholmondley wrote of the House of Education:
The aim of the House of Education would be to sustain life. “The House of the Holy Spirit” would more exactly express the truth.
The aim of my homeschool is also to sustain life. But this cannot be done apart from the church. Nor can the church fully sustain life without extending a broad education into my home. The House of Education was indented to be a “House of the Holy Spirit.” I hope that my home and my church together will be another such house.