Give each other time… and listen! – Bishop Martin’s final letter as School Chaplain

Dear Parents, Guardians, Members of Staff and Friends, 

I have a question for you! What is important for you right now in your life? That’s not an easy question to answer. On a mundane level, what’s important for me at present is to be able to sing reasonably well in a concert this coming Sunday! At 77, my voice doesn’t last as well as it did. Also, frankly, it doesn’t have the quality it once did. So perhaps a better answer would be another question. Do you not, Martin, need to accept gracefully that diminishment in various activities is inevitable and in accepting that, I hope to have some graciousness?  

Here’s another question for you…

When was the last time you asked someone a real question about themselves, including those in your immediate family? That initially may seem easy enough. However, I find myself in conversations that are more and more about series of statements, opinions and attitudes exchanged, rather than in the exchange of questions. One of the reasons for this [do you agree?] may be that asking a question is, in effect, giving away power. It takes some humility to ask a question, as I’m really saying to you [asking!]: ‘I don’t know. Can you help me? I’d like to know because I don’t!’


Ask this question…

At 15, my brother Michael took me to a Franciscan Friary in Alnmouth, Northumberland to meet a friar he had come to know in Cambridge. The friar’s name was Father Michael of the Society of St Francis. My mother insisted that I wore my kilt! In January, this was not altogether a pleasant experience! The friary at Alnmouth was like something out of a scene in Boris Pasternak’s ‘Dr Zhivago’….[which became, by the way, a powerful movie]. On my second evening at the friary in Alnmouth, Father Michael asked me to come to his study. This I did with the trepidation associated with summons to my house-master’s study. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In my kilt, as I sat down, Father Michael realised I was feeling chilled. So he put in front of me one of those fan heaters which, with a kilt on, provided the necessary and much welcomed warmth! Then he asked me a question: ‘Martin. Tell me. What’s important in your life just now?’ No one up to that point in my life had ever asked me that question. For me, I wondered who on earth would be interest in asking a 15 year old boy that! Of course, I fumbled around producing only rather lame answers. That wasn’t the point. It was the question that was the important thing in my life at that point. That experience, or rather, question, remains with me to this day and I put to you that you can use it.


How can we become skilled teachers?

Perhaps it’s the quality of questions that marks out a skilled teacher rather than the information he or she conveys, which stimulates the most creative educational experience. For me, the presence of Christ is not so much about religious statements and guidance, but more about the question-mark that is presented by his life. It may well be that what arises are more questions. David Jenkins, a great theologian and philosopher, was asked what he felt was important in living the Christ-like life. His answer was: “To question and to keep refining the question”.


The beautiful exchange of questions and stories

During the summer holidays, I hope you will give as much time as you can to use questions and listening to your children – and they to you. I’ve just come back from Venice, where my son-in-law, Eamonn, was singing at La Fenice. My grand-children came as well to see and hear their father. One of the features for me was walking through the myriad alleyways and across the countless foot-bridges while the children and I exchanged questions and stories. These moments were invaluable and indeed beautiful experiences in themselves. 


Thank you to you all for your support and friendship

Next week, on 14th July, which marks the end of the school year, pupils in Year 8 will be leaving Exeter Cathedral School. This moment of transition for them will have that mixture of excitement, hope and sadness at partings with all the memories that go with parting.

In my early morning praying, I hold them in the Presence of the Creativity of God, as I do all the boys and girls at Exeter Cathedral School.

Along with other members of staff, I myself will be ‘laying down’ the role – in my case, of School Chaplain – in the school.

Thank you to you all for your support and friendship.



If there is anything you want to share with me – including questions [!] – then please do use my own email address: amartinshaw@gmail.com 

Blessings, Hope and Love surround you, 

Bishop Martin

5 July 2022
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