Service, Scholarship and Speaking in Tongues

And now for something a little different, from Canada: 

Pacific Academy in Surrey considers itself unique among schools, and few would disagree.

Thanks to a billionaire benefactor, the academy has a 40-acre campus with four handsome brick buildings housing primary, intermediate, middle and secondary grades. It boasts an international baccalaureate (IB) program, state-of-the-art media centre, 1,500-seat auditorium, multiple gymnasiums and, with 1,412 students, the second largest enrolment among B.C. independent schools.

Through its outreach society, the academy also owns and operates two schools in Uganda — one that serves 850 students with nursery programs, K-12 and vocational training, and a new boarding school for girls, which has 55 students this year. The non-profit society has more than 100 employees working with the students, many of whom are AIDS orphans.

But apart from sporting events, the school has avoided the spotlight.

This month, it will celebrate 20 years of work in Africa with an event in its Chandos Pattison auditorium, named after the father of Jimmy Pattison, the business tycoon who funded the school when it opened its doors in 1985 in Coquitlam with 200 students and when it moved to Surrey in 1991…

…Pacific Academy describes itself as “unabashedly Christian to the core” and gives enrolment priority to students whose families regularly attend a Pentecostal church or — in an unusual detail for a B.C. school — have experienced glossolalia, also known as speaking in tongues.

Pacific Academy, like all independent schools, sets its own admission criteria and, like some faith-based schools, it also advises same-sex couples not to bother applying because of religious views that homosexuality is a sin. That attitude is one of the reasons the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has long opposed public funding for independent schools.

Parents who want to enrol their children at Pacific Academy must sign a family statement agreeing with Scripture teachings that marriage is between a man and a woman, and a faith statement that “invites God’s Holy Spirit to be active in the daily life of the school.” There is no expectation that students will speak in tongues, headmaster Paul Horban said, but they should be aware before enrolling that the school accepts glossolalia as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

“We don’t discourage it, we don’t sensationalize it,” he explained. “We don’t say OK, this is what you all should be doing … but if it’s discussed in classes, we’re comfortable with it. It’s what we believe in.”

What is expected from all students, however, is service, and that’s emphasized with a biblical phrase inscribed on a wall at the school’s main entrance: “Whoever would be greatest must be least — and the servant of all.”

That commitment to service is what defines the school, Horban said, and the message for students is that “it’s not about you — it’s about your contribution and what you can do in the world.”

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