How to deal with school assemblies: a parent’s guide

assembly-schoolI have a lot of sympathy with Lee and Lizanne, having to deal with what their children are taught in school and particularly in school assemblies.

I was particularly upset by one assembly that my child told me she was part of. I can only paraphrase what the teacher said: it may not be a fair representation but it is basically what was reported back to me.

“Work hard. It’s imprtant to work hard because then you can get good results. Good results are what it’s all about because if you get good results you can go to college and university and then you can have a good job and earn lots of money.”

Unfortunately while Lee and Lizanne can pursue legal action and wage a media campaign I can only try to explain to my children that different people believe different things. Some people believe there is a God and some people don’t. Other people believe in the same God but in different ways. Some people believe in entirely different gods. I realise that all adults have their own agenda and I explain that to my children.

And so I should declare an interest: I also deliver school assemblies, mostly in church schools. Here’s what I hope children will hear from me and take home:

“Today I heard an amazing story about Jesus. It made us think. It doesn’t matter how clever I am or what I look like or how good at sports I am. If I get things wrong or mess up I can be forgiven. I am a child of God, made in his image just like everyone else and he loves me forever.”

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Nine Circles of Hell

Bicycle thieves

People who don’t pick up their dog poo

People who pick up their dog poo and then hang it on a bush

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Three things that make me proud to be British

The National Health Service: when I was younger I wondered about the priorities of those who answered NHS tothe question “what is the most important issue for you in voting?” As I have got older I understand more the benefits, particularly for the those who are older.

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What Would Donald Do?

WWDD? A few years back wristbands and tee-shirts with WWJD? were popular. Those unable to make up their minds on tricky ethical issues were encouraged to ask themselves what would Jesus do? Every day we all face questions that may puzzle us as we navigate the moral maze.

Republican presidential candidate Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally in Manchester

Maybe we should try asking what would Donald Trump do? And then do the opposite.

For example: if you read a less-than-flattering tweet or come across someone whose views you profoundly disagree with, then you may be tempted, especially in the small hours of the morning, to reply, perhaps quite rudely. That’s what the Dona ld would do. You, of course, should do the opposite: roll over and go back to sleep. Or maybe just say something nice.

Or perhaps you owe somebody money. It’s tempting to refuse to pay them, file an expensive counter-suit against your debtors and then bully them into accepting a much lower amount than they are owed. That’s what Donald has done on a number of occasions. So do the opposite: just pay people what you owe them. It’s not the best way to make a fortune but at least you can sleep at night.

Let’s say you see an attractive young woman: should you attempt to grab her by any part of her anatomy? WWDD? That’s right – its wrong! Even if you could get away with it multiple times, as he has, it’s still wrong. I think it goes without saying that I would advise you not commit adultery even once, let alone commit sexual assault and then brag about it on camera.

One last thought – maybe it’s not just a helpful rule-of-thumb for the ethical conundrums of everyday life. Maybe it can be applied to politics as well. After hearing Trump’s advice to our Prime Minister on Brexit (“She didn’t listen to me” – I know, Don, I know, she never listens to me either) I found myself wondering – if he and foreign multi-millionaires like Rupert Murdoch are so keen on it, is it really going to make me and my country better off?

Anyway,  just a few thoughts from me, I’m off to be racis… oh hang on WWDD?



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Jesus is coming home

elizaSermon preached on 8th July 2018 at St Mary Magdalene Clitheroe on the baptism of Eliza Louise Brown.

Football is coming home: everyone is saying it, including someone singing it at 7.30 this morning outside the Vicarage. But in this morning’s gospel, Mark 6:1-13 tells us that Jesus who we’ve read over the last few weeks, stilling the storm, casting out demons and even raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead did not have a good reception when he came home.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

It seems to have been a problem of expectation. This is Jesus the carpenter’s son, we expect him to be good at, well, carpentry. Expectations can work both ways.

Those of you old enough to remember previous World Cups will know that England (who last won the World Cup in 1966 when I was one year old) has struggled with unreasonably high expectations. The World Cup belongs to no-one by right. And Gareth Southgate has done a fantastic job of managing expectations  so that each England win has been a pleasant surprise and delight.

What do we expect from God? Maybe Christians can expect too much: we pray for rain now but we know that the weather forecast tells us something different. But sometimes I think my expectations are too low: I pray for too little with too little hope that God will answer my prayers.

And after the disappointment of Jesus’ visit home: who could have expected that the 6 parties of disciples who Jesus sent out into the world would convert an Empire of 30 million people in around three centuries?

But I know this: I hear from school kids that the assembly they get in some state secondary schools goes something like “work hard, get good results, get a good job and then you can have a nice car and a big house”. We have a far more ambitious vision for Eliza today. Through baptism we claim her identity as a unique child of God, loved by him before she was formed in her mother’s womb. We don’t know what  lies in the future for her but my hope is that is she fails, she fails spectacularly, picks herself up again and lives her life to her full potential as one loved for all eternity by God, until she comes at last to her home in heaven.


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St Anthony’s Day

downhamTo Downham this morning to worship in one of the most beautiful churches I know. The mid-week service is Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion and attended by a handful of villagers. But which readings to use? On Sunday the congregation, some of whom I know will be there this morning, will have heard the Book of Common Prayer readings set for Sunday. Perhaps today will be a saint’s day? Not in the Anglican calendar – but joy! in the Roman Catholic Church’s it is St Anthony of Padua.

St Anthony is one of the most quickly canonised saints (about a year after his death at the age of 36 in 1231) and was famous for his passionate preaching, knowledge of scripture, and care for the sick and the poor. He is most famous today as the patron saint of lost things or lost causes. Wikipedia lists his other patronages as being (amongst many others) Brazil, swineherds, pregnant women, counter-revolutionaries and oppressed people.

One of my favourite stories about St Antony was that he tried one of his famous sermons on some townpeople who really didn’t want to listen. So he went to preach to some fish in the river instead. The fish gathered to listen and the people of the town decided that maybe he did have something worthwhile to say.

Happy St Anthony’s Day! I put in a word for the England 2018 World Cup Squad. Perhaps you should too.


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Me, Tent Guy and the Sabbath

Sermon preached St Mary Magdalene Clitheroe 3rd June 2018 (Trinity 1)

There’s a guy near to us has pitched his small tent in a public park. He’s been there some time and I’ve never seen him come into or out of the tent. So I’m assuming Tent Guy is a he and I’m sorry don’t know what he looks like or what his story is. I know that there’s no litter around the tent and Tent Guy’s well away from the paths so he’s causing no nuisance to me.

But it does kind of bug me and I’ve been trying to work out why. Is it because I hanker for the “good old days” when a parkie would appear and chase him off. Or a policeman. Do you remember them? You did something against the law and one of them would show up. So maybe it’s nostalgia.

Maybe it’s me being a bit jealous though. Maybe I’d like to pitch my tent where-ever I please, free of charge. And if I can’t, nobody should be able to.

As I read the stories of Jesus’s conflict with the Pharisees in Mark’s Gospel I began to see the Pharisees in a new light. Maybe they are a bit more like me than I would like to admit. When they are fasting, Jesus’ disciples aren’t. And I imagine anyone who’s been on a diet must look at people who aren’t with a great deal of envy.

By the way, I’ve never been on a diet.

In Mark’s story of Jesus (Chapter 2 verse 23) he writes that “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. ” The Pharisees are outraged and ask Jesus why his disciples are breaking the law. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Because they’re hungry, duh” – though that is implied.

So does Jesus say it’s OK to break the law? “Yes, but” is the easiest answer. Yes, because laws are made for people and not people for laws. Throughout history Christians have fought against unjust laws. What makes a law unjust? If it stops people fulfilling their full potential as human beings – because Jesus taught that loving our neighbour and loving God are the most important laws.

How we do that is when things start to get messy but what Jesus teaches is that we need to keep going back to those core principles; the love of God extended to each and every one of us and his desire for us to love each other.

Today I hope you have a blessed Sabbath – relax, spend time with your family and friends if you like, and, if it helps, forget that tomorrow is Monday.



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