The Diocese of Ely Education Directorate

Diocesan Syllabus on Collective Worship

Most people reading this page will be thinking “I didn’t know there was a Diocesan Syllabus for Collective Worship”!  In fact the last Diocesan Syllabus was dated 1952 but, apart from the recommended reading list, is still relevant today.  It is included here as “something to think about”.

“The Morning Assembly is something more than an opening ceremony for the day.  it is a way of recognising something we easily forget – that this is God’s world and that nothing makes sense if we omit Him from our concerns.  God is at the heart of all knowledge and experience, and worship is the deliberate process of admitting him into our daily living, without which everything we do will be futile.  we worship God “not only with our lips but in our lives”.

“Therefore an act of worship should give children an experience of God.  because in our hymns and prayers the very words we use to worship God also describe God, it is important that we should only use “sound words” which will present the children with a true conception of God’s nature.  The God who has revealed himself in Christ and in the natural order still remains great and mysterious beyond our comprehension, and therefore worship must always preserve, side by side with love and intimacy, the sense of awe which children readily appreciate.  Don’t be too concerned about whether children can understand the meaning of some of the great words we use in worship.  the language of worship, like poetry, can (in the words of T.S.Eliot) “communicate before it is understood”.  Introduce children over the age of five or six to the finest hymns and prayers of our tradition.  they will sense the majesty of God long before they grasp the meaning of the words.  but remember that their growing conception of what God is like is derived far more powerfully from the words of hymns and prayers than from anything we teach them deliberately.  That is why the words we use must be theologically sound.

“In the same way children will learn most of what they come to know about prayers by the kind of services in which they take part – in school and elsewhere.  So we must ensure that they become acquainted with prayer in all its forms -Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (that is Asking both for ourselves and others). These various forms are summed up in the easily remembered word A-C-T-S.

“Take advice from an expert about the right choice of material.  You can’t take too much care about it.  Books like The Oxford Book of School Worship or School Worship Day by Day are safe guides, both theologically and devotionally.

“In conducting acts of worship the two most important considerations are Reverence and Interest.  Reverence is largely a matter of demeanour, which is communicated to the children not only by the leader but also by other members of the staff.  A quiet unhurried voice and manner are all important.  Say your own prayers without being too anxious about what the children are doing.  Use periods of quietness (up to about fifteen seconds) at the beginning, as you remember God’s presence; during prayers giving the children the opportunity to pray quietly; after the blessing; and at any point in the service where you can leave the children time to think and pray by themselves.  But be careful to always give guidance about the use of such silences.  Above all, leave all notices and acts of discipline or correction till the service is well over.

“It is useful to remember that worship for children ought to be interesting.  Boredom posses no virtue of its own!  Give the children every opportunity of sharing – not only in the hymns and the Amens, but also in the prayers by means of litanies and responsary forms as well as by the corporate use of silence.  Provide a suitable focus of attention for their wandering gaze – a picture or even a vase of flowers on the table may be enough to direct their thoughts to God.  Let them also change their position fairly frequently so that they don’t get cramped and fidgety. It is by care for such simple physical things that we may more easily come to focus our mind on God and find him at the heart of common things.”

John G. Williams