‘No Christian assemblies please, Not in our school’

Christian assemblies seem to be dying out. Here is our view on the current state of Christian assemblies in schools, given the current legal requirement for all pupils in England and Wales to take part in a “broadly Christian” act of daily collective worship.
Christian Assemblies Singing
School Christian assemblies appear to be dying out

One of the most common queries we receive about our products is the good old ‘is it religious?’ question. The answer we nearly always give is, ‘yes and no!’

To explain, although most of our school assemblies and children’s musicals contain Christian input, themes or ideas in one form or another, every product we sell also gives the flexibility to allow customers to remove most religious references altogether. This is because each product contains editable versions of the scripts, with many also containing multiple script variations, including non-religious alternatives. Therefore, even our most Christian assemblies can quickly become non-Christian assemblies if so desired.

But looking back to when we started in business 12 years ago, this issue was a lot more challenging for us. Back then, each one of our assembly CDs and school musicals had just one, un-editable script. There was little flexibility. Therefore after a few years of…

Customer: “Is it Religious?”

Us: “Yes!”

Customer: (Silence as they hang up)

… we were forced to become more flexible, from a financial point of view as much as anything else.

Whilst this change has brought increased sales and a product flexibility which is unrivalled by any of our competitors, I can’t help but feel sad every time ‘the religious question’ is even raised by a potential customer. In mentioning it, deep down you know that what the customer’s really saying is… ‘we have no intention of doing anything religious in our class assembly / Christmas play / school performance.’

Legally this could potentially be a serious issue, in that schools in our country are required by law to deliver regular collective worship which is wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.”  The trouble is that currently, there is no workable system in our country for actually checking if schools keep to this requirement or not. Ofsted inspectors may question it on the rarest of occasions, but would seldom make a big issue out of it. As a result, traditional school Christian assemblies appear to be a dying breed.

Of course most educational settings do keep to the rules, but in our experience there is a growing tendency for schools to try to get away with the bare minimum.  For example, in researching this blog I came across a discussion board where two different schools reported on the way they catered for this legal requirement. Firstly, a teacher wrote…

“Most of our staff are ungodly. We learn the odd hymn over the year, but most of our assemblies focus on morals and values rather than God. The odd Bible story fills some of the Christian gaps. We also work on the formula that one visit of a happy clappy priest = 5 Christian assemblies.  So, job done.”

…Then later on the same board, a user posted an email they’d received from their children’s headteacher about the same issue. The head was quoted as saying…

“Our assemblies are an opportunity to consider moral and cultural values and behaviours more than collective worship. We always sing, however we do not sing hymns… we often have a thought for the day rather than a prayer. The exception to this is when a local vicar visits to take assembly and the children say the Lord’s Prayer with him.”

… In addition to the above examples, I know of one school where religious assemblies have been abandoned completely. This followed complaints by parents of pupils from non-Christian religions. Even local religious leaders are no longer invited into this school. Their assemblies have in effect become a religious free zone.

It  has been suggested by many experts and commentators that the correct definition of “collective worship – wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character” is that at least 51% of all school assemblies should be Christian, in one form or another. However, it’s clear from the above three examples that many schools are light years away from this and as a result, true Christian assemblies are vanishing into the past.

There are those who try to use this situation as an excuse to suggest that perhaps we should just remove acts of worship and religious education from schools altogether. This view, which is mainly aired by Humanist / Atheist associations, see the ‘broadly Christian’ requirement as “unworkable, hypocritical, counter-productive and divisive. (Quote from the BHA: British Humanist Association website). Given what I have written above, I sadly agree with the use of the word ‘unworkable’ at this time. However, I can’t agree with their other assertions.

In the world we live in, religious intolerance is a serious problem and is often a cause of war, conflict and terror. There  are those who use this fact, to foolishly suggest the banning of religion altogether! In actual fact, the opposite needs to happen. I believe that the only long-term answer to this rising tide of ignorance and intolerance is more religious education, not less!

Children need to learn about religions properly. This includes the lesson of being able to question beliefs, whilst at the same time learning to show understanding, respect, tolerance and appreciation towards those who have a different belief system. Any good school will cover all this through their regular RE lessons, but what better way to reinforce this religious education, than through a daily act of collective worship? This approach is certainly not ‘counter-productive’. Anything that encourages peace and harmony can only be very productive. Similarly the lessons of love and unity, found in all religions, if applied properly, are the very opposite of being ‘divisive’.

The BHA has proposed an alternative to the current law. They want to see a requirement for inclusive assemblies, which forward the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils, without discriminating against any on the basis of their religion or non-religious beliefs. In principal, this sounds absolutely fine and full of common-sense. However, when you look at their actual guidance on the issue, it’s clear that what they’re proposing would involve diluting Christianity to such a point where it becomes barely recognisable.

One example they give which is particularly odd, is in regards to prayer. Their guidance says, “Praying should always be voluntary – a short silence, in which pupils can reflect on the theme, or pray if they wish… but you need to work out an effective and inclusive way (not ‘Amen’) to end the silence and finish the assembly in a strong and positive manner.” How will children ever learn about the topic of prayer if they never hear an actual prayer being prayed, but just sit in silence instead?

Furthermore, to suggest banning the word ‘amen’, actually shows a great deal of ignorance. Despite the word ‘amen’ being used in Judaism and Islam, as well as Christianity, it is not a word of worship! ‘Amen’ is actually a word of agreement. It literally means ‘so be it / let it be / make it so’ or in other words, ‘may everything we have thought about and discussed in this assembly, now come to pass’.  With this definition in mind, I can’t think of a better word to use to finish any school assembly in a “strong and positive manner“.

In summary, we here at Learn2soar Music would like to see the existing law on collective worship not just remain in place, but would like to see new legislation / Ofsted guidance brought in to enforce it more rigidly, so that traditional Christian assemblies don’t die off. Despite this, we are sadly not expecting any new legislation or guidance to come into effect any time soon.  So in the mean time, we will carry on writing religious assemblies, plays and musicals, but we’ll also continue to offer and expand our non-religious alternatives, even if it makes us a little sad while we do it. And here’s our last word on all this… Amen!

More School Christian assemblies? ‘Amen’