An expression of faith

26th August 2005 at 01:00
I fully endorse the comments by Marj Adams (TESS, August 5) on Anne Pirrie's article on religious observance (July 22).

As a teacher and head of religious education in numerous Scottish schools since 1969, I also by default became involved in and indeed suffered through many excrutiating school services and assemblies to fulfil the remit of religious observance.

Picture the scene: the school hall crammed with rows of standing S3 pupils, shuffling their feet on a dreich Wednesday morning, a handful of women staff warbling like nervous birds in what was affectionately called the "staff choir" (only three of us sang), whilst our male colleagues and the whole of the year group remained mute, some miming half-heartedly the words of dirges such as "Immortal, invisible, God only wise".

You would get the occasional distraction during the headteacher's homily, usually taking the kids to task about some misdemeanour, with a bit of the Sermon on the Mount thrown in for good measure, when some pale-faced pupil would collapse in a dead faint amidst a sea of legs.

I remember attending a seminar during the late 1980s when we were shown a video presentation of a school assembly at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow, a school with a multi-faith roll as well as those of no religious persuasion. The themes explored at these assemblies were pagan in the strictest sense of the word, yet common to all of the faith communities - themes such as water, fire, earth, air, spirit, light and darkness. They were portrayed very sensitively and creatively via music, art, drama, literature, science and maths.

I sat silently weeping, so deeply moved was I by the impact of the Bellahouston presentation and the expressions on the pupils' faces. Indeed it brought me to the "edge of the numinous" in a more powerful way than I'd ever experienced in all my years as a pupil, then teacher and eventually adviser in religious education.

My point is this: if it's Christian proselytisation, then religious observance should be given a very wide berth. But I believe, from my experience of watching the Bellahouston pupils at work, that we shouldn't necessarily throw out the baby with the bath water: the beauty of true spirituality should not be lost in the morass of mere religiosity.

Shirley Mitchinson. Ballindalloch Banffshire

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