29 January 2014

Worship in Schools and the Independence Question

Plaid-SNP-inspirationAlmost 10 years ago I moved from Wales to Scotland. In Wales, I was for a time a member of Plaid Cymru. I supported the secession of Wales from the United Kingdom. I still believe in political self-determination for my home nation and I still believe that independence would bring benefits to both Scotland and Wales. But…as a Christian, the whole issue is more complicated. Scotland is not Wales. More importantly, the SNP is not Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru is a party where the Christianity of the church ministers who were at the forefront of the birth of the modern Welsh political and language movements still means something. Leading figures of more recent years, such as Rhodri Glyn Tomos and the great Dafydd Iwan, are lay ministers. Ieuan Wyn Jones has spoken openly of his Christian belief. Wales has seen as much of a decline in church attendance as anywhere, perhaps even more so, given the high attendances of early last century, but the old denominations and the presence of the Church in Wales still seem to uphold Christianity to a certain degree in civic life.

Contrast this with the SNP and Scotland. The SNP seems bent on pursuing a secular political and liberal social agenda which directly undermines the place of Christianity in civic life. In this regard, SNP are little different from Scottish (or New) Labour. Whatever similarities there may be to Plaid on economics, social justice or on political self-determination and independence, they are not cut from quite the same cloth. And the National Church, the Church of Scotland, seems to be heavily influenced by the same type of liberal so-called progressives. I adduce as evidence the recent debacle of the joint statement with the Humanist Society concerning religious observance in schools.

In fact, let me take the example of religious observance or worship (the distinction is important) in schools. In Wales, the following requirements are laid down for schools:

  • schools must provide collective worship daily for all registered pupils,
  • most acts of collective worship in each term should be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character. This means that they should reflect the broad traditions of Christian belief without being distinctive of any particular Christian denomination.

It is specifically ‘worship’ that must take place each day, defined as follows:

Collective worship in schools should aim to provide the opportunity for pupils to worship God, to consider the spiritual and moral issues and to explore their own beliefs; to encourage participation and response, whether through active involvement in the presentation of worship or through listening to, watching and joining in the worship offered; and to develop community spirit, promote a common ethos and shared values, and reinforce positive attitudes.

Contrast this with the position in Scotland where since 2005 (under a Labour/Lib Dem coalition and before any of the recent Humanist/CofS shenanigans) there has merely been a requirement for ‘religious observance’ defined as:

community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school community and express and celebrate the shared values of the school community.

Whatever religious observance is in Scotland, it is not worship, let alone Christian worship! The requirements for religious observance in Scotland are:

  • Every school should provide opportunities for religious observance at least six times in a school year

And what about the relationship between religious observance and worship?

Where the school, whether denominational or non-denominational, is continuous with a faith community, that community’s faith in the “focus of worship”, may be assumed and worship may be considered to be appropriate as part of the formal activity of the school. Where, as in most non-denominational schools, there is a diversity of beliefs and practices, the review
group believes that the appropriate context for an organised act of worship is within the informal curriculum as part of the range of activities offered for example by religions, groups, chaplains and other religious leaders.

That’s not terribly clear and the nagging impression is that between the lines lurks the secular liberal doublethink (and remember this is long-before the Church of Scotland and Humanists got into bed to propose a Time for Reflection). I prefer the more straightforward exhortations of the Welsh Assembly Government. I know of a school in Wales where the inspection body Estyn recommended after inspection that prayers should be said more regularly as part of school assemblies. So it happens on the ground as well as in the circulars.

So, as a Christian who follows Jesus Christ, cares about the faith, cares about the Church of the faith, and the relationship of the nation to the Church (I’m a Presbyterian!), it seems to me that voting for independence for Scotland is not the same as voting for independence for Wales. The former might happen. I now doubt whether the latter ever will. But, do I want to vote for an independent Scotland led by a secularising, liberal elite that ignore the fact that 65% of the Scottish population claim some allegiance to Christianity? Do I want to vote for an independent Scotland with a national Church that seems to be slipping its moorings, adrift on a stormy sea of liberal, heterodox theology? Do I want to vote for Scotland to be independent from the rest of the UK, when in the rest of the UK it seems as if there is more of a successful resistance to secular pressures and where it seems as if Christianity (recognisable as Christianity) is still playing a more visible part in the national discourse and in civic life? Do I really want to do that?

 

DOCUMENTS:

www.estyn.gov.uk/download/publication/10019.1/Supplementary_guidance_collective_worship_in_non-denominational_schools.pdf

www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/920/0113848.pdf