Letters : Prayer in schools: frequency, quality, compulsion, secularism

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The Independent Online
From the Rev Clive Calver and Mr Martyn Eden Sir: Your leading article "Ritual, the common thread of religion" (15 December) unfortunately confuses two issues. There are a variety of views on the Church-state relationship but none of them is compatible with concern about collective worship in schools.

Our education coalition produced a briefing paper, expressing concern over the non-performance of acts of school worship. This was intended to stimulate public debate so that the law does not become dead by default.

We sympathise with those who want to see the 1988 Act carried out in relation to school worship. Wherever authentic worship is held daily we would emphasise our desire for this to continue. Sadly, this does not happen in a majority of schools. In too ma n y, neither the frequency nor the quality reaches the standards we would wish to see maintained. Thus the thrust of this particular suggestion is not a reduction from daily to twice-weekly worship but an increase to a recognised minimum of twice-weekly w o rship where this does not occur.

The Prime Minister's reiteration of Government commitment to a daily act of worship is commendable. The need now is to make this policy work in practice. Far from protest from the sidelines, evangelical churches and societies of all denominations will want to offer practical resources and support. Instead of debating the nature of the relationship between Church and state, we want to help children to appreciate the unique significance of the Christian faith.

Yours sincerely, CLIVE CALVER Director General MARTYN EDEN Public Affairs Director Evangelical Alliance London, SE11

16 December

From Dr Stephen Travis and Mrs Pat Travis Sir: You misjudge both the situation in schools today and the Christian understanding of worship that you seek to uphold. Worship is an activity of willing participants that cannot be commanded by legislation. Torequire unwilling pupils to attend religious rituals promotes not spiritual understanding but resentment and cynicism.

The initiative of the Evangelical Alliance is therefore to be welcomed. Their proposal that school worship should be frequent and more clearly voluntary offers real hope of worship in which both pupils and teachers can take part with integrity.

Yours faithfully, STEPHEN TRAVIS Vice-Principal St John's College Nottingham PAT TRAVIS Lecturer in Religious Education University of Nottingham Nottingham 16 December

From Sir Fred Catherwood Sir: Ritual may be the common thread of religion but the common thread of Christianity is faith in Christ and the test of faith is in the change of behaviour that it produces - "faith without works is dead".

The Evangelical Alliance stands not for institutional religion but for that faith in all its powers. It stands by the creeds of all the Reformed Churches, whether they are Afro-Caribbean or Anglican and it stands against all the forces of secularism, wh i ch have undermined that faith in our country, and against the clerics who have trimmed to secularism.

The Christian faith teaches about life and death, good and evil, sin and salvation. The secularism of the last 30 years has left people with the belief that there is no absolute right and wrong, no life beyond death, no justice beyond this world; so we live in a materialistic, permissive society which encourages us to get what we can while we can and hold on to as hard as we can, since that is all we will ever have. But, as Hamish McRae tells us today, that does not make us happy.

Instead, the damage to our social structure, especially to the family, has made British society dangerously unstable. Far from the churches' social role being a cosy pullover, we are in the no-go areas of the cities, finding homes for the young homeless,helping the jobless to find work, sorting the finances of those entangled in debt, counselling the desperate, running creches for single parent mothers and visiting those dying of Aids and trying bring back some some structure, faith and purpose to life, some stability back to society.

Yours sincerely, FRED CATHERWOOD Balsham, Cambridgeshire 15 December