Norwich School Blog

Being a Small Boat - Rev Child Addresses Pupils On How Even the Smallest Things Make a Big Difference

Philippians 2:5-11 

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

6 who, being in very nature God, 
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 
7 rather, he made himself nothing 
    by taking the very nature of a servant, 
    being made in human likeness. 
8 And being found in appearance as a man, 
    he humbled himself 
    by becoming obedient to death – 
        even death on a cross! 

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
    and gave him the name that is above every name, 
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
    to the glory of God the Father. 


Jesus made himself nothing. He took the nature of a servant. He humbled himself so much that he accepted a criminal’s death on a cross. One of the things that gives Christianity its character is that its founder was not an overlord or a mighty warrior but a vulnerable, relatively unimportant, local person. But being vulnerable, unimportant and local didn’t stop Jesus of Nazareth becoming the focus of Holy Week and Easter which millions of Christians around the world will turn their attention to next week.  

I’ll come back to this. I want to tell you about another man called Charles Lightoller, who you may not have heard of, but had a couple of reasons for being well-known in the early part of the 20th century. First of all, Lightoller was the second officer of the Titanic. Since the captain went down with the ship when it sank, Lightoller was the senior surviving officer, the person that many people had questions for when the news of the Titanic disaster became known. When he initially received such a senior position on this iconic vessel, Lightoller must have felt he had arrived, that he was now in the big time, that the size of the ship he was assigned to was a symbol of how great his career had grown. What a comedown, therefore, that the Titanic never even made it across the Atlantic. 

The second thing that Lightoller is known for is his role in the evacuation of Dunkirk. If you’ve seen the movie of the same name, you’ll know that in 1940 British troops were surrounded in Dunkirk – they were effectively stranded on the beach. A desperate plan was drawn up to evacuate hundreds of thousands of soldiers. They would use every boat they could find including pleasure boats and fishing boats, the smallest of which was just 4½ metres long. Charles Lightoller, now at retirement age, had a small boat licensed to carry 21 passengers. He volunteered to sail it to Dunkirk himself, where he picked up 127 servicemen and brought them back to Britain, on the way manoevering his overloaded craft to avoid a bomb from a German aircraft. What Lightoller achieved in that small boat was more impressive, more inspiring than what he achieved in the largest ship that had ever been built.  

What I want to say to you this morning is this: don’t worry if yours is a small boat. Because sometimes small boats make the biggest difference. 

During February half term I went inside the Houses of Parliament for the first time. It was very impressive – do try and go one day. You enter through the enormous space of Westminster Hall. You are directed by charming staff in parliamentary uniform. You pass statues of legendary politicians. You really feel like you are in a centre of power. And yet the debate that I watched in the House of Commons is already notorious as a bad day in Parliament. If you follow politics, it was the day that the Speaker was accused of not following protocol and favouring one party over another. I left with the impression that this titanic institution, the famous debating chamber that I’ve grown up watching on the news night by night, was in fact full of infighting, power games and pointless debates that made little difference and was little help to the world outside. 

Then I returned to Norwich School for this second half of term. I noticed some more modest projects going on, but which seemed to me much more inspiring and much more helpful than what I had seen in Westminster. You’ll remember that we had a Friday speaker from a domestic abuse charity in Sprowston, Dawn’s New Horizon. Through the sale of artwork in the Crypt £3000 was raised, which will make a lot of difference to that small charity.  

Then last week we collected food and household essentials for West Earlham Junior School on home clothes day, where lots of you gave a little bit to help families in one of the poorer parts of the city. I think I was more inspired, watching pasta and loo roll being loaded into a van in the playground, than I was watching the prime minister and the leader of the opposition at the dispatch box. Maybe you thought you weren’t doing much when you handed over your packet of pasta, that it was only a small thing. But sometimes small things make the biggest difference. 

As I said at the beginning, Easter is a celebration of an event that was initially small and local. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on the outskirts of a city, on an outcrop of rock that was only really fit for executions. But this small, local event is now recognised by many as an outstanding moment in history, an event with enormous repercussions.  

Don’t worry if at any time your life seems a bit small or a bit local. Sometimes small things make the biggest difference. 

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