• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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We Don’t Need No Daily Worship

The law requiring a daily act of Christian worship in English (sic – laws are different in other parts of the UK) schools is under question by chief education inspector David Bell. Asks Bell:

How many people in this country, apart from schoolchildren, are required to attend daily worship?

But changing the law with bring to an end to a great British tradition – of hypocrisy. The fact is that most schools ignore the law, and have done so for years. As someone who went to school in the 1970s and 1980s I was lucky enough to see the decline first-hand. First, the hymns were dropped, as increasing numbers of kids could manage (or were inclined) only to mumble through the unfamiliar and obscure words – while a few would even stand defiantly with their mouths closed. One time the Headmaster of my high school (a well-meaning Evangelical) called a special assembly (causing panic and the widespread flushing away of contraband) to berate pupils for not saying the Lord’s Prayer, leaving the final “Amen”  in particular sounding very ropey, to no effect. Assemblies changed from worship to evangelism, but bringing in various bishops and evangelists to preach to us failed to turn the tide. Indeed, guitar-wielding Evangelicals and camp clergymen tended to evoke mainly laughter. What’s more, it was quite clear to us that only a minority of the staff were actually religious themselves, and often the assembly would have no religious content if a non-pious teacher was leading it. One time a staff member even ended his talk with “right. Oh, do you want a prayer? Nah…”

Meanwhile, the number of students whose parents exercised their right not to have their kids take part in the assembly on religious grounds increased. Making a lone Jehovah’s Witness stand outside the room was bad enough, but when several students from ethnic minorities were excluded the whole idea of the “school assembly” became a rather distasteful joke.

Teacher friends tell me that school assemblies today tend to consist of general moralising rather than religious worship or indoctrination, although a local religious figure might be invited in to chat from time to time. A few Christian Religious Studies teachers use the event as a bully pulpit (1), but they tend to annoy the other teachers as much as the children.

It’s an interesting fact that a country that has compulsory religious education and an established church is actually a lot less religious than the USA.

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(1) A friend of mine who teaches recalls seeing a teacher eating cornflakes at the school assembly. He then told the pupils: “If you told your parents that I was eating cornflakes here today, they wouldn’t believe you. That’s just like the disciples telling people after the Resurrection, but it was true”. I don’t think even Josh MacDowell has tried this Argument from Cornflakes.

One Response

  1. Great blog, by the way. Can’t remember if I said that already.
    I speak as an RE (Religious Education) teacher in the UK and as a Christian: I don’t see the point in continuing the “daily collective act of worship”. As you rightly identify, it’s all a bit of a charade anyway. I have not come across many schools that meet the regulations, and when they do have daily assemblies, what they do could hardly be described as “worship” in any meaningful sense.

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