Special place of calm

18th March 2005 at 00:00
Alison Seaman describes how collective worship can provide an oasis of peace during the day

I was talking with some children recently about their experiences of collective worship in their school. One of them said, "We get to listen to lots of stories," another said, "Sometimes we get people to come and talk to us about different things," and from another, "I like the sort of worship we had this morning... it just relaxes you before you go into school.

You get time to think about things."

In a world where there are more questions than answers, collective worship can provide the essential breathing space for pupil and teacher in an action-packed school day. It is an opportunity to inspire and challenge pupils, to engage mind, body and spirit.

Creative collective worship can produce enjoyable and uplifting experiences and help build strong communities that can share sadness as well as joy. In a collective worship programme that is rooted in the school's vision, time is offered each day to nurture the special character and ethos that identify each school. It can be a safe space in which children can grapple with profound or puzzling questions and through the exploration of our human story, both sacred and secular, pupils can respond, deepen their experience, make connections and find meaning. All aspects of school life contribute to pupils' spiritual lives but collective worship makes a significant contribution to this important bedrock of education.

Good collective worship demands energy and imagination and time is always at a premium, so it is important to be clear about what is legally required for your school and to have good resources to hand. The pattern of the year - the seasons, school terms, religious and secular festivals and national events - offer a natural rhythm to follow when planning worship.

An essential resource to support this is the Shap Calendar of Religious Festivals. For ideas and inspiration for other worship themes that reflect the requirement to be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character" try the Collective Worship Resource website which provides collective worship for primary and secondary schools each week, together with a large archive and links to other collective worship sources.

Following a clear structure can really enhance the planning of individual acts of collective worship. A good rule of thumb is for each session to contain some thinking, some sharing, some listening, and some reflection.

From this structure, individual creativity will flourish as teachers and pupils bring their own strengths and ingenuity to the occasion.

One of the ways in which collective worship can come alive is by engaging the senses. It is important to create a special time and space in the place where you meet, whether it is the classroom or school hall. Clear the clutter and have an attractive central focus table using colour, natural objects or religious artefacts that relate to the theme for the day.

In collective worship there is the opportunity to explore the big ideas about religion and human experience; to reflect on the lives of people of yesterday and today who exemplify compassion, forgiveness, conviction, and courage. Pupils are given the chance to consider the different ways people respond to God and to grapple with their own ideas about God.

The wisdom of religious and philosophical traditions provides a wealth of material: inspiring stories, readings, or thoughts for the day. By concentrating on those values and beliefs shared by Christian and other world views, collective worship can be a purposeful, inclusive activity that nurtures the spiritual lives of all participants and sets the tone for the school day.

Creating the right atmosphere is an essential quality of meaningful collective worship. A reflective atmosphere can be shaped by slowing down the pace and encouraging stillness. The use of open questions (I wonder...? What if...?), will encourage pupils to engage with ideas, to challenge and question, and to bring their experiences into the discussion.

It can also be a great liberation when we recognise that as teachers, we do not have to know all the answers. Teaching and learning is a two-way process and this experience is often brought sharply to bear in collective worship.

The best advice I was ever given about collective worship was to focus on these four things:

* Make it relevant.

* Less is more. It is always a temptation to try to cover too much in the time available.

* Welcome the unexpected.

* Be yourself.

Armed with that advice and some good resources, collective worship can be an enjoyable and uplifting experience for everyone.

lShap Calendar of Religious Festivals and Shap Pictorial Calendar Tel: 020 7898 1494

Email: shap@natsoc.c-of-e.org.uk

Collective Worship Resource, Culham Institute with The National Society at www.culham.ac.uk


Alison Seaman is editor and co-author of Be Bold: inspiring primary school collective worship (Church House Publishing)

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