Thursday, 28 February 2013

Faith in Education

I attended a Cross Party debate on the subject of Faith in Education on Wednesday, 27th.  The guest speaker was Bishop Gregory of St Asaph.  Bishop Gregory is a man of large personality.  I first met him when we were both part of a Faith panel at a VIth form conference in Croesyceiliog.  He is an excellent speaker – talking clearly and without notes.

Bishop Gregory structured his talk on the importance of acts of collective worship in school into three points:
  • the importance of enabling young people to be given an experience of religion
  • the acknowledgement of the UK as a society of multi-faiths or no faith
  • education which includes worship is valuable in itself 
Detailing the first point, Bishop Gregory spoke of the need to give young people the skill of being ‘in conversation with God’.  He also talked of the need to present young people with ‘the universe as it is’.  I was a little concerned that such statements failed to embrace the possibility of multi-faith spiritual practice in schools.  I imagine the Buddhist view of ‘the universe as it is’ would be quite different to that of an Anglican bishop. 

Although the Bishop spoke of multi-faith and no faith in his introduction, when he returned to his second point he focused on the Christian heritage of the UK.  Whether the UK is a Christian country depends on how far back in time you decide to look.  In recent history Christianity has dominated but this has not always been the case and may not be true in the future.

Adding depth to his third point, Bishop Gregory expressed the value of religious worship in celebrating common life and values.

My experience of multi-faith assemblies when my sons were in school, was that they offered a look at the religion from the outside and provided information but were not in fact acts of worship in the same sense that a Christian assembly would be.  I commented during the debate that I had never been invited into a school to lead an assembly.  I have been invited to talk to particular classes about Buddhism when they are studying that subject, but not to lead an assemblage of school children in an act of worship – to engage in Buddhist practice.  Sometimes it seems that it is not questioned that non-Christian children are included in Christian ceremonies, but there is a reluctance to include children in active engagement with other faiths.

The area where I was able to wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Gregory was when he suggested that our memories of school assemblies were that they were dull and uninspiring.  He suggested that there needed to be training in how to present an act of worship in school, and that there needed to be debate on the nature of worship currently being offered.

I would be pleased to hear readers’ comments on collective acts of worship in schools.

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