Do children in Britain know the Lord’s Prayer? For generations, most did. Today, that is much less likely to be the case. And tomorrow’s Britain is being built today.
In the chaotic noise of a superficially secularised Britain, children have a right to be given some of the tools to unlock the door to a rich cultural and spiritual tradition. Among much else, they have a right to know the Lord’s Prayer.
Funded by an ecumenical Christian group, the Lord’s Prayer project is now operating in a number of schools in various parts of Britain. In London, it is organised by the Ladies Ordinariate Group. This group brings together women from the South London and Croydon Ordinariates: it’s a lively group that holds regular meetings with guest speakers, organises occasional pilgrimages and trips to places of Catholic interest, and provides support for various Ordinariate events
Background: the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans who wishes to come into full communion with the Catholic Church bringing their liturgical and other traditions with them. The Ladies Ordinariate Group was established in London and plays an active role in Ordinariate life.
In the Lord’s Prayer Project, a leaflet is sent to primary schools: we began with church-based schools, both Anglican and Catholic. It’s essentially an artwork and handwriting project: the children write out the Lord’s Prayer in good handwriting and decorate it any way they like. The teacher then parcels up all the work and posts it to us. Each participating child gets a small Gospel booklet with the Lord’s Prayer on the inside cover and a space to sign his or her name. The best entries get prizes – attractive children’s books from Christian publishers.
A team of volunteers packs and posts the booklets and prizes. If the schools wish, we can send some one along to make a formal presentation. I enjoy doing this, and I explain to the children that it’s a London-wide project and that they are sharing in something extremely important, coming to know a prayer that people have prayed for some 2,000 years.
Of course, in church-based schools (CofE and Catholic) the children will have been taught the Lord’s Prayer: it is a moving experience to hear them all praying it together in school. The children tend to take it seriously: eyes shut, hands clasped together. In discussion, they show some evidence of understanding what it teaches about God being holy, about asking him for daily needs, about forgiveness given and received. Sometimes a bright child will understand some link between “daily bread” and Christ as the “bread of life”, understanding that we do not live by bread alone…and even seeing something that points towards the Eucharist where something that looks like bread is no longer bread at all…
People say “But, surely, it’s the parents who should teach the children this prayer”. Of course. But many don’t, or can’t because they don’t know it themselves. Gone are the days when it was part of everyone’s vocabulary. And please don’t tell me that all children in church-based schools will have been taught this prayer at home anyway: many belong to families that have friendly but somewhat infrequent links with the Church, and it is at school that they get their first regular experiences of common prayer and worship.
From its beginnings in London, the Lord’s Prayer project has spread to various parts of Britain, all co-ordinated through Christian Projects and all using the same style of leaflets and method of action.
According to the National Curriculum, children in all Britain’s schools must be taught something about the main religions of the world. Helping to teach children the Lord’s Prayer fits in with that. Children need information and an understanding that there are spiritual truths worth exploring. They cannot be expected to make up their minds on the basis of ignorance. Schools that are not church-based have shown interest in the Lord’s Prayer project. It is open to all schools.
Pope St John Paul emphasised “The Church proposes – she imposes nothing”. Truth has its own attraction. Children and adults all have a right to discover the truths of the Christian faith and the task of evangelisation is one to which all Christians are called. I am involved with other evangelisation activities and am well aware that most involve much more than merely helping children to know a prayer which ought to be familiar to all. But by helping to get the Lord’s Prayer back into everyone vocabulary, we are making a contribution towards an opening towards the great spiritual truths to which it points. And we are making a genuine contribution to creating a society where spiritual values are appreciated.