‘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 always give is, ‘yes and no!’ In other words, although most of our school assemblies and children’s musicals contain Christian themes, each script also gives the customer the flexibility to remove religious references altogether, if required. 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.

However, looking back to when we started in business in the early 2000’s, 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. Regretably, there was very 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.

Christian Assemblies seem to be a dying breed

Whilst this change has brought increased sales and a product flexibility which are unrivalled by many 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 is potentially a serious issue.  Schools 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 system in this country for actually checking if schools meet this requirement. Ofsted inspectors may question it on the rarest of occasions, but would seldom make it an issue. As a result, traditional school Christian assemblies appear to be a dying breed.

“We don’t sing hymns”

Of course, a good number of educational establishments 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 very interesting discussion board on this subject. Amongst the discussions, two different schools caught my eye. Firstly, one 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. 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, I know of one inner-city primary school where religious assemblies have been completely abandoned . This decision followed complaints by parents of pupils from non-Christian religions. Even local religious leaders are no longer invited into this school. Their school assemblies have deliberately become a religious free zone.

The concept of a ‘broadly Christian assembly’ is “unworkable”

Experts and commentators have suggested 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. 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 word ‘unworkable’ at this time. However, I can’t agree with their other assertions.

More religious education, not less

In our world, 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 showing 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’.

Inclusive assemblies

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 guidance on the issue, it seems that their proposal would dilute 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.

Silence? Really? How can children ever learn about prayer if they never hear an actual prayer being prayed, sitting 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, ‘Amen’ becomes the perfect conclusion to any school assembly. Saying ‘Amen’ is actually how you end in a “strong and positive manner“.

Make it so

In conclusion, we wish to see the collective worship law not just remain in place, but to also be strengthened.  This means we would like to see new legislation and guidance brought in to enforce it more rigidly. We don’t want traditional Christian assemblies to die off. However, we are sadly not expecting any new legislation or guidance to come any time soon.  So in the mean time, we will carry on writing our religious assemblies, plays and musicals. And we’ll continue to expand our non-religious alternatives, even if it makes us a little sad to do so. And here’s our last word on all this… Amen!

More School Christian assemblies? ‘Amen’