COLLECTIVE worship in Church of England schools must have a clear and authentic Christian message, while recognising that many pupils and staff will come from homes of different faith backgrounds as well as those of no faith, the C of E Education Office’s new guidance document, Inclusive, Invitational, Inspiring, says.
It describes collective worship as the “unique heartbeat of the school”, giving pupils and adults a wider opportunity to encounter faith and enabling pupils to leave school “with a rich experience and understanding of Christianity”.
It should grow out of the local context, and should reflect the faith, belief, and ethnic communities that the schools serve. There should be “space to consent and dissent; to participate and to stand back”, the guidance says. It emphasises that there should be no compulsion to “do anything”.
The document uses the metaphor of “warm fires and open doors”, where the warmth of the fire “derives from the clarity and authenticity of the Christian message at its heart. There is no value to an encounter with a watered-down, lowest common denominator of faith. Importantly, the door is open, all are welcome to come in and sit as near or as far away from the fire as they feel comfortable.”
Music and liturgies should reflect the best of traditional and modern Anglican worship, it says, and “care should be taken to ensure that pupils and adults do not feel compelled to sing strongly confessional lyrics. There should be no assumption of Christian faith in those present.”
Collective worship will “reflect on the moral values such as compassion, gratitude, justice, humility, forgiveness and reconciliation; and develop virtues such as resilience, determination and creativity that develop character and contribute to academic progress”.
Parents, pupils, and adults are “entitled to be led in worship by those who have a secure understanding of the nature of collective worship in the church school context and by those who are professional in their approach to working with pupils and adults from all faiths and none”. Those invited in from outside agencies and church groups should be trained and properly briefed about the school.
The Church of England’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “We are delighted to offer this new publication, which seeks to challenge, guide, and set expectations for church-school communities and diocesan authorities when considering this essential component of education that enables all pupils to flourish and to live life in all its fullness.”
Read more on the story in Andrew Brown’s press column