Father Gerry, a chaplain to all faiths and none

22nd September 2021

“I learnt about other religions;
respect other people’s beliefs and religions;
not everyone believes in God.”

Student from Ark St Albans Academy

Father Gerry Sykes has been the Vicar of St Albans Highgate for four years and one of the roles he has in the parish is to be the Chaplain to the Ark St Albans Academy secondary school, where his role is to be an Interfaith Chaplain to those young people and staff with all faiths and none.

The parish of St Albans is known as a Presence and Engagement parish, this is where there is a high proportion of another faith other than Christianity, in this case, Islam, so the churches’ role is to be Christ’s presence and light, working alongside other faith leaders and living out Jesus’ teaching.

The draw for Father Gerry in his Chaplaincy role is that he is passionate about young people being given the chance to think through issues for themselves as well as being exposed to the faith of others and given language to talk about their own beliefs whilst respecting and gaining insight into others. A lot of his work is done through organising and running the school's Collective Worship services.

The school is opposite the church and in pre-covid times, the young people would take part in interfaith services where Father Gerry would open with Muslim prayers such as the Al Fatiha, alongside our Anglican prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Peace. This sets the tone to unpack the barriers to conversations around faith and community.

One of his most poignant and appreciated collective worship service was on Black History Month, this is what some of the young people had to say about it:

“Black history month made me think because it is upsetting that black people were slaves.”
“The collective worship that made me think was black history month because I am black.”
“The collective worship that I enjoyed was Black History Month because it made black people look cool and in place.”
“The worship I enjoyed most was the Black History Month because to remind yourself that no matter what race you are we are all even.”

Please pray for Father Gerry as he continues to support the Ark Academy and other schools in his parish, as he is the catalyst for taking down barriers and offering new ways to think and talk with each other.

Schools are a vital and instrumental place for the Church to be involved in, especially given what they have been through in the last year. We can offer hope, love, support, and joy, we can bake cakes, offer our time using our God-given gifts to make school a richer and more diverse place and we can pray, the most powerful tool of all.

If you want to explore how you can support your local school more, please contact Emma Sargeant, who can give you access to our new resource, ‘Connection with your local school’.