Collective worship ideas

Collective worship in schools - 'Where do we start?' 'What shape should an assembly - as they are still commonly called - take?' Here are a few simple ideas as guidelines.

On your marks:

According to national guidelines, the content of collective worship in schools should be largely, though not wholly, Christian in character. There can however be particular constraints on this, set by local committees called Sacres. Nevertheless, the challenge for teachers or visiting groups from churches remains: 'Where do we start?' 'What shape should an assembly - as they are still commonly called - take?' Here are a few simple ideas as guidelines.

Get set:

Useful reference books to have handy include: books of special days and dates; lists of saints days; information on special national weeks or charity days; books of short stories or modern-day parables - BRF has a number of resource books that could be of help - visit BRF Online to find out more.

Go:

1. The R.E. Co-ordinator and/or Head Teacher will have set various key themes for the year's assemblies and these will usually relate to the major faith festivals as well as to more general issues linked to citizenship, our interpersonal relationships and the environment. Normally a visiting team or speaker will be given the freedom to choose a topic of their own, but it is always courteous to ask schools if there is a particular subject area that they would like covered on the week that you are coming.

2. Collective worship as with any other aspects of school life needs clear frameworks and agreed boundaries - even more so as an assembly involves such a large number of children. Children often enter the hall quietly to music and then there may also be a candle at the front that is lit. Some schools may have a particular focal point, on which a regular symbol is set or where special items can be put, appropriate for that day's assembly. It may be useful for you to suggest such a piece of music, which then can be integrated into whatever you go on to say and also the focal table could be where you place something that has a special link with your talk.

3. Always check if the school is used to singing a hymn or song at some point in the assembly. It is helpful to the children if you work to some extent at least within the framework they are used to. If possible, talk over the choice of hymn/song too, so that it can be linked in to what you are going to be saying.

4. Collective worship/assembly time is an important 'community' moment for the school and even though you have been invited as a special guest speaker, there will almost certainly be a number of 'household' items that the Head Teacher or others will need to cover at some point, such as the giving of awards or special announcements concerning forthcoming events. Be aware of these and that they might be part of the overall assembly time and how they might relate to your particular slot.

5. What should we share?

  • Bible stories are no longer as well known as they once were. Even those that you are convinced they will have heard before, may well be new to many of the children. For this reason a Bible story well told will hold their attention, especially if accompanied by some simple visuals or mime. Take care however if you decide to involve the whole school in any question or answer session. Noise levels can very quickly rise and an atmosphere of attention is lost.
  • Personal stories. Amazing though it may seem to you, your own story is of great interest. Being personal and linking what you say to your own experience of life can establish you as a real person and instantly build bridges. Everyday experiences to which the children can also relate are vital in helping you to get any message across.

6. A topical or humorous start is often very useful. References to events the children will have heard of and that are in the news, such as sport results or major incidents, are often a good place to start. Humour also makes this sort of connection for anyone and maybe an unusual picture, a puzzle or riddle will provide the opening you need; even a 'new' (?) joke could be the launch pad for what you want to say, once you have introduced yourself and expressed how pleased you are to be asked to be part of their assembly that day.

7. Whatever the theme you choose - whether set by the school or chosen by yourselves - be careful as to how much you try and put over. Usually one clear point for the assembly is best. Don't be over-elaborate or over-ambitious in what you're trying convey. If possible, draw your Bible story to a close with a series of simple questions, which you can leave in the children's minds. Sow seeds of wondering, which can go on working in them well after you have gone. This is of course the way Jesus taught. He told parables and very rarely explained them!

8. Prayer is usually part of collective worship. If invited to lead the prayer as well, be careful to make it short and make it clear that you are inviting children to say 'amen', only if they want to. You might explain to them that 'amen' means that they agree to the prayer. In many schools it may be more appropriate to end your assembly time with some silence, perhaps accompanied by music and/or a picture.

9. Don't go on too long! Think of what you will be saying in terms of short, two or three minute bite-size chunks. For example, introduce yourself; catch their attention with some unusual object picture or a joke; set out the theme of what you want to talk about; tell the story with simple visuals and actions; invite some sort of response; come back to your main theme and key point; gives space for reflection and prayer. Remember the last things you say will be the things they remember.

10. Whenever you are talking directly about Christianity, remember you are not in a church. Use phrases like 'Christians believe that...' or 'this is what I believe as a Christian'. If we do an assembly well and sensitively, we do our faith far better service and almost certainly build bridges, which will open doors on future occasions.

Finally, because collective worship/an assembly is so important and it is an opportunity to present what Christianity is all about, make sure that you have people praying for you.