The hope for the next generation starts in the schools.
“There’s a higher mortality rate with youth suicide than there’s ever been. It’s nearly at epidemic proportions.”
“It’s happening right before our very eyes and the community’s wondering what’s going on.”
“Many of our young people are feeling so hopeless and so overwhelmed.”
These statements were made by Greg Holder who’s the pastor of Riverside Church at Grafton in Northern New South Wales.
Greg Holder is also chairman of the Clarence Valley Christian Education Board and it’s in this role that Greg is tackling the issues related to religious education and problems associated with living in today’s country towns.
It’s commonly known that religious instruction takes place in schools right across Australia. In most states it’s simply called religious instruction or RI. In New South Wales they call it SRE which stands for Special Religious Education.
That said, Greg Holder is behind a push to raise the profile of religious education and he’s told Vision listeners of the blessing to be able to have an input into both primary and secondary schools in the region.
“In the primary schools we have voluntary teachers who are equipped to do the work, and in the secondary schools we’ve full-time SRE teachers,” Greg Holder announced, saying there are both full-time and part-time depending on the board.
“Well, the board I’m actually chairman of is responsible for fundraising through the communities to keep our teachers on the forefront of SRE in the schools,” Greg said, saying it’s much needed considering the big challenges young people are facing.
20Twenty host Neil Johnson mentioned the unrelenting attack against religious education and the push to have it taken out of the schools. Greg Holder, whose spent nearly 30 years promoting RE in schools, is well aware of the challenges in his region.
But Greg’s attention was on a serious problem at the top of the list – the higher mortality rate occurring among young people living in rural areas.
“It’s happening right before our very eyes and the community’s wondering what’s going on,” Greg tabled, saying Christians there know that Jesus is the only hope for these young people. But there lies the challenge.
“To keep fresh hope before them, often times so many of our young people are feeling so hopeless and so overwhelmed with the prospects before them.”
“Sometimes it’s school pressures,” Greg said, “Sometimes it’s peer pressures, or drugs and alcohol, and at other times it’s just a sense of hopelessness and an inability to cope,” Greg shared, saying this is happening on a daily basis.
“Sometimes it’s the family breakdown. We’re dealing with all of these things on an increasing scale. It’s so shocking every time we get hit again with a young person that’s taken their life.”
“We know that Jesus is the answer. And if we take that hope out of the schools and that information that should be there for the students then I think we’re doing a disservice to the next generation of leaders,” Greg said.
However, the stigma of youth suicide weighs heavily on the hearts of Greg and the Christian community at Grafton and the surrounding region.
This was when Greg Holder opened up and shared thoughts deep from his pastoral heart.
“Every time we hear of another suicide, it’s like a knife that goes through each one of us. We think what has happened for this young person to feel such a sense of disconnection, such a sense of aloneness. Such a sense that there’s no other alternative and that this (suicide) is the best alternative available,” Greg said with much sorrow.
“That’s what I’m hearing when parents talk to me as the local pastor in a church here. I’m also hearing it when I’m invited to speak to various boards and at other forums about these situations,” Greg continued.
“But the truth is, when all hope is removed from a situation and we find that counselling can only do a certain part and chaplaincy can only do so much.”
“For us who have an absolute faith in Christ we know that Jesus comes to bring hope in the most hopeless of situations,” Greg said, confessing how he feels absolutely torn on the inside, because these young people have failed to have the opportunity to hear about someone who really loves them.
“And no child should ever have that taken from them. But there is hope in Christ and yet they’ve never been told that,” Greg said.
The broader question was whether the level of positivity towards Christian education in schools today was good or not so good.
Greg rolled out the statistics that on average, about 70 percent of parents encourage their children to attend the voluntary SRE classes approved in over 90 percent of government primary schools and 80 percent of high schools where SRE is available.
“That’s a tremendous thing. It’s a big vote of confidence for SRE in the schools,” Greg said enthusiastically.
“As I said, over 70 percent of parents choose for their children to attend SRE because it gives them another whole sense of values and a unity and community based morality,” Greg declared.
But what exactly are those values? Greg Holder drilled them down to a core number of four that SRE brings to the school curriculum.
“First on the literacy stage, a major component of SRE is the study of the sacred literature of faith,” Greg revealed, saying it works by engaging deeply with these students and encouraging them in their literacy from a different perspective.
The next value Greg acknowledged was creative thinking and how that encourages the students to examine their faith with the knowledge and critical skills to make informed decisions for themselves.
“SRE and chaplaincy is for all faiths. It’s to make sure that everybody is given the opportunity, so critical and creative thinking is a vital part of that,” Greg said before moving on to the third point. This is where people are not coping on a social level and turn to suicide as a last resort.
“SRE equips the students to understand and assess the influence their chosen faith has had on society. And SRE can also strengthen students’ abilities to engage with their local faith communities as well,” Greg said with great fluency before noting the fourth point, ethics.
Greg said ethics is about enabling the students to make a positive contribution to society as it instructs them how to take control of their thought processes.
“It’s a brilliant, brilliant model where our teachers are highly educated and trained. They work closely with their school principals and the teaching staff, and they work within the curriculums and guidelines.
Greg Holder summarized the content of what he shared by repeating the four points, literacy, critical and creative thinking, personal and social capabilities, and ethical understanding.
“I think that speaks volumes into a young person’s life when they’re looking for answers and speaking about hope,” Greg concluded.
Greg Holder is the pastor of Riverside Church, Grafton.
He can be contacted through the church at 54-56 Bent St, South Grafton NSW 2460
Ph: 02 66432385
Fax: 02 66427569