Do children in today’s Britain know the Lord’s Prayer? Anecdotal evidence suggests that a great many do not. For centuries and centuries each new generation has learned this prayer, and at home and at school, in church, chapel, monastery and shrine, it has been prayed by old and young: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” But now?
Today, large parts of many British cities are Moslem, and so there the prayer is not known. There are prayers to God, but he is not honoured as a father.
But what about the places where the population is mixed, or where there is even a majority of children from non-Islamic homes? And what about the places that are specifically Christian, the Catholic and Church of England schools where children are from families that have made it clear that they are committed to the Christian faith?
With funding from an ecumenical Christian charity, groups of women in different parts of Britain have been helping to ensure that children have the opportunity to learn and to study the Lord’s Prayer.
We have been hugely reassured by the realisation that, in Catholic and in Anglican schools, the prayer is taught and is prayed regularly. Our project involved sending a brochure to all Catholic and Church of England primary schools in various selected parts of Britain, inviting the pupils to write out the Lord’s Prayer in good handwriting, decorate it any way they wanted, and then answer some simple questions: What does ‘hallowed’ mean? What are trespasses? And who taught us this prayer?
We are well aware that by no means all the children in Catholic and C of E schools are regular churchgoers. But they are certainly taught to pray, and taught to do so in traditional prayers. In London, we received some beautiful work from a range of schools, some in central London and some out in the suburbs. There were some beautiful illustrations, hand-drawn, traced, coloured with paints or crayons or trimmed with fabric or glitter. There was some good handwriting – and of course some poor work too. There were some howlers : “Our Father, who heart in heaven” “My will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”.
Most children accurately stated that Jesus Christ our Saviour taught us this prayer, but two or three announced that it was St Matthew, one was absolutely emphatic that it was St John, and one child wrote, very engagingly :”My mum and dad taught me this prayer. I don’t know how anyone else learned it.”
Dare we branch out and involve other, non-church schools, in this project? In theory, Christianity has a place, as of right, in the classrooms of all schools in Britain. Children are meant to study something of all the world’s main religions. In practice, except in church schools, Christianity is often very much marginalised. Trips are organised to mosques but much less often to a local church. But often this is out of a confused sense of seeking to be “multi-cultural” rather than to any outright opposition to Christianity. And teachers themselves often lack sufficient knowledge of Christ to be able to communicate much about him with confidence.
The “Our Father” project is in its infancy. Pray for wisdom, tact and understanding as we seek to help children in Britain to know and understand something that every previous generation in Britain’s long recorded history knew and understood: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”