Worship with a light touch

6th December 1996 at 00:00

By Roy Blatchford

Stanley Thornes Pounds 14.99


By Roberta Karin

Hodder Stoughton Pounds 7.99


By Phil Grice

Heinemann Pounds 10.99


Edited by David Self

Heinemann Pounds 14.99

Seasoned teachers may over the years settle for competence in most lessons, sparkle in some and the outstandingly memorable in a few. Collective worship is different: many leaders feel that brilliance and sparkle elude them and that competence may be the best they can hope for, awaiting the life-enhancing bell that proclaims assembly is over. In worship there is much more to success than a good book, but a good book may prevent disaster.

Roy Blatchford's collection is aimed at the 14-plus age group and has nine units on each of 10 topics. The pattern is simple: introduction, reading, reflection. Sometimes the reflection is short: "BTBYCB - Be the Best You Can Be!" His readings demand concentration on the part of hearers and will not go down well in those acts of worship that resemble troops preventing insurrection.

Blatchford's sources in Reflected Values range from Akbar Ahmed to W B Yeats, Ray Bradbury to Basil Hume, Jonathan Sacks to Maya Angelou. In Soundbites, Roberta Karin tells jokes and stories in a Christian setting. Her 60 suggestions linked to biblical passages are short and light, from the old man with the banana in his ear to St Peter and the man with the 12,000cc Yamaha motorbike at the Pearly Gates. Some sections are too short to use easily in 15 minutes of Purgatory.

Phil Grice includes help with legal provision and collective worship policy, then 39 themes under introduction, scripture, story, activity and prayer. Activity may be a novel concept in some collective worship, where passivity on the part of pupils can be the norm in secondary schools.

David Self's The Broadly Christian Assembly Book moves from a sensitive introduction to passages from the famous to the unknown, under the loose themes of festivals, stories, "saints as sinners who keep on trying", "thoughts for a day" and "thou shalt love thy neighbour". It includes pieces by Richard Adams, Lionel Blue, Herodotus, Madhur Jaffrey, and A N Wilson. The touch is light, with the chance of deeper reflection. There are even two extracts from passages by the Schools Council - perhaps modern sainthood implies being turned into school worship material during one's lifetime.

Resources are only one aspect of the success or failure of collective worship. Staff training is still nearly non-existent in initial teacher training and rare in in-service training of teachers. Yet political expectations that collective worship will help to promote the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's "values in education" and re-moralise society seem far removed from reality.

Headteachers and heads of year are deemed to have miraculously acquired the competencies to lead collective worship as soon as they are appointed. But let's complain loudly to You Know Who. They might intervene with a national curriculum for collective worship and accompanying manual to tell us what to say and when to pray. However, while we wait for these bigger issues to be addressed, these books show sensitivity to the post-1988 situation and realism about the art of the possible.

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