Being met together

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Assemblies By Ian Addis and Sue Spooner. 0 590 53099 2 Pounds 11.99 Scholastic Publications Festivals by Jill Bennett 0 590 53123 9 Pounds 11.99 Scholastic Publications

Faith in History by Margaret Cooling 0 86347 106 4 Pounds 14.95 Eagle

Last Monday morning a friend who is headteacher of a middle school had the unnerving experience of conducting morning assembly for 250 children, sundry staff and six OFSTED inspectors, each with clipboards.

I suggested that she should choose as her text: "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged" (Luke 6:37). But in the end, mindful of the ordeal that she and her staff were about to undergo, she delivered a stirring address on the need for team spirit. However, the night before that darkest of Monday mornings she could equally well have reached for Assemblies, a new collection of multicultural stories, songs and prayers that some primary heads have already come to regard as a life-saver.

In some respects such publications are like recipe books; many headteachers have a yard or two of them on their shelves and they flick through them time and again looking for inspiration. Some never offer any, but this one will - regularly. It covers five main themes: Rules for livinggrowth; Family friends; Community; Environment and conservation; and Celebrations, and is pitched at a level that is intelligible to the average pupil.

Much of the material is photocopiable and, as the editors have rightly claimed, this enables teachers to make the chosen themes more meaningful by allowing children to read a story for themselves or using a prayer as a model for their own writing.

Festivals follows much the same format. It includes the six major world faiths, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, and focuses on such festivals as Purim (Jewish), Holi (Hindu) and Ramadan and Eid-Ul-Fitr (Muslim). A brief sketch of the origins, significance and rituals of each festival is given, and this is followed by a collection of related stories, poems and songs.

Other books on festivals have danced over the same ground, of course, but this is more than a reheating of all the old stories. As with Assemblies, there is no shortage of appetising new "recipes".

Faith in History, which is designed to support RE lessons and class assemblies for 7 to 12-year-olds, concentrates solely on Christianity but it covers the huge span of time from the Romans to the present day.

Its publicity blurb invites ridicule by claming that this is a "lavishly illustrated" and "beautiful" book (the Book of Kells is in no danger of being overshadowed by these often amateurish drawings). But apart freom that quibble I found this an interesting and ambitious book too - it examines 54 topics, offers some excellent teachers' notes and suggests many practical classroom activities.

I was impressed by Margaret Cooling's readiness to challenge the assumption that all Puritans were killjoys and was intrigued by her charitable views on bloodthirsty Viking raiders such as the charmingly named Thorkell the Skullsplitter and Wolf the Unwashed. "The Vikings were not particularly anti-Christian; they were, rather, entrepreneurs and churches to them were just banks without locks."

Those in search of a shining example of Christian forgiveness need look no further.

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