The story of Charlie Smart, Philippa Trotmeister, Henrietta Smythe and the Headteacher
Jesus told stories about the kingdom, the rule of God.
I’d like to tell you one of those stories, but I’ve changed it a bit. He told it about a ruler and his servants. I’m telling it about a headteacher and three children in a school. But this school is not a middle school and it is not St James. It is an imaginary school in an imaginary town in an imaginary time.
In this school there are three children that I would like us to get to know.
1. Charlie Smart
Charlie was not very good at anything.
He had few friends and he kept himself to himself
When he played football, nobody passed to him because he messed it up
He got the teachers annoyed in lessons because he didn’t get it when they explained what he had to do – they were always having to tell him again.
When he sang in assembly he didn’t sing, he growled.
He was really completely unnoticeable.
Charlie started to doodle in the lessons. He drew the children sitting next to him. He drew the teachers. That made them even more mad. But one teacher looked at a doodle he had drawn and said, ‘Charlie, that is actually very good’. It was probably the first time anybody had said to him that something he had done was good.
So Charlie plucked up his courage and went to see the art teacher. He showed her his doodles. And she also thought that they were good. And Charlie asked her, ‘Could you help me to draw better’. And Charlie began to work on his drawing. And as he spent time after school learning new skills and practising his drawing, he slowly began to become a pretty good artist. They even put up one of his paintings in the school corridor.
2. Philippa Trotmeister
Philippa also had few friends
She appeared to be a bit of rebel because of what she wore. But that was because her mum didn’t have much money and she was always wearing second hand clothes – so rather than have people laugh at her, she wore them in alternative ways.
She didn’t do much in class. She didn’t really didn’t understand any of it.
She was never picked for any of the teams
And she was certainly not in the in-crowd. She wasn’t even part of the out-crowd.
But there was one lesson that she did enjoy. She loved music lessons. Music meant something to her. She understood it. It spoke to her.
And so Philippa went to the music teacher. She asked, ‘Please may I play the school piano. My mum has got no money for lessons, but I’d love to learn to play. I promise I will work really hard, and practise’. And the music teacher said that they would help Philippa to learn. And they gave Philippa some lessons, and almost every lunch time, Philippa went to the music room and practised playing the piano. And she became quite good. She even played a short piece at the end of term school concert.
3. Henrietta Smythe
Henrietta was definitely in the in-crowd. Everybody wanted to be her friend. Even some of the boys!
She had everything.
Her parents were very important. Her dad owned a really big business; her mum was a school governor – and they had loads of money. She had whatever she wanted.
She was athletic and could run faster than most of her class. They wanted her in the running team, but she didn’t join. She said she was too busy
She was good at speaking, but she didn’t join the school debating society. She was too busy.
She was good at drawing and IT.
She had an ear for music and could sing well. They wanted her in the choir, but she didn’t join. Yes, you’ve got it. She was too busy.
She was really clever. She just understood maths and science. She could write well. And she could get very good marks without even trying. So she didn’t really try. She did the minimum amount of homework. She was too busy.
Well the day came at the end of the school year when the headteacher asked to see Charlie Smart, Philippa Trotmeister and Henrietta Smythe.
Charlie went first.
He was dreading it. He had come last in class in every subject, apart from art. He hung his head low.
The headteacher looked at him. ‘Charlie’, she said, ‘You’ve come bottom in every subject apart from art. You’re not very good at sport, and you’re not in any team. And you don’t seem to have many friends’.
Poor Charlie. His head hung even lower. He was sure that he was about to be told that he couldn’t come back to school.
The headteacher continued, ‘But Charlie I want you to know that I am very pleased with you. You have discovered that you are able to draw, and you decided to do something about that. You went to the teacher to ask her to help you become better at drawing. You have listened and you’ve learned and you’ve worked at your drawing – and you are becoming a very good artist. And then she said some words that no one had ever said to Charlie. ‘Charlie, I’m really proud of you, and of what you are giving to our school, and I’m giving you a head teachers award’.
Next it was Philippa’s turn.
Her hand was shaking when she went into the headteacher’s office.
‘Philippa’, she said, ‘You think that you don’t really fit into this school. You are embarrassed because your mum doesn’t have much money and you can’t afford new clothes. You struggle in class because you don’t really understand what is going on. But Philippa, I want you to know that I am very pleased with you. You have discovered that you have a gift for music. You have started to learn the piano, and you have chosen to work really hard at that. I am proud of you, and I’m proud of what you are doing for our school, and I’m giving you a headteachers award’.
Finally Henrietta went into the headteachers study.
She had been looking forward to this.
She thought: ‘If Charlie Smart is getting a headteacher’s award, and if Philippa Trotmeister is getting a headteacher’s award, I must be getting a headteacher’s award. She thought, ‘I’m clever (I came top in several of my subjects without even trying), I’m popular, I’m attractive, I’m sporty, I can sing well – and my mum’s a governor’.
The headteacher said to her, ‘Henrietta, you are the person who everyone wants to have as their friend. You’ve come top of the class in many subjects.
But Henrietta I am desperately disappointed with you. You have so many gifts and you haven’t tried to develop any of them. Because you don’t need to work hard to do well, you won’t work hard. You are one of the fastest runners in this school but you won’t train. You sing well, but you can’t be bothered to go to singing lessons. In fact you haven’t done anything to try and get better and you haven’t contributed anything to the life of this school. You say that you are busy, but you are not. You are lazy and there is no place for you in this school next term.’
I said it was an imaginary school in an imaginary town in an imaginary time.
But Jesus told a story a bit like that. He talked about the gifts that God gave to people. Some people seem to have many gifts; others seem to have few gifts. But God says it is not the number of gifts that you have, but how you use the gifts that you do have. If we don’t try to develop them, if we don’t use them, we will lose them.
And Jesus warns of a day when we will all stand before the headteacher, and we will each have to give an account for how we have used the gifts that he has given us. And the astonishing thing is: that even if we are not much good at anything – but we’ve still tried to grow the little that we have and we’ve tried to use it for him and for the people in his world – then on that day, he will look at you and say: ‘I am so incredibly proud of you’.