There is a school in Lewis, I’m told, where the day no longer begins with the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer, for anyone who doesn’t know, was given to us as a pattern for how we should communicate with the Lord.
But someone – and I don’t know who makes these kinds of decisions – has taken it upon themselves to decide that children don’t have to know how to pray. There is someone in the local educational establishment who is so certain that we no longer require God, that they are prepared to take this step.
This person needs our prayers.
They need our prayers, not just because they plainly doubt the central message of Christianity for themselves. Somehow, through their role in education, they have been entrusted with important decisions regarding the welfare of children. And they have chosen to apply that status to this grievous step. Having, presumably, had the opportunity to accept or reject Christ for themselves, they have chosen to turn their face from Him.
But they are so assured of His irrelevance that they have decided that the children for whom they have responsibility do not need Him either.
I stand in awe of such self-belief.
The well-rehearsed argument of the secularists is that Christian parents should teach their own children how to pray. Yes, they should and, I imagine, do. But what about non-Christian parents? Their children will not be taught at home how to call on the Lord, or even that such a path is open to them.
‘My child can decide for himself, when he’s older’, they tell you. Don’t be fooled by the decisive tone in which this is said, however – hear the vagueness of what they’re saying. Their child will decide at some future point. Not now, though. So, when?
Children learn about world religions as a matter of course. The same parents who wanted an end to the Lord’s Prayer are perfectly happy to see their wee ones coming home with books about Diwali and Hanukkah. It’s okay to talk about Mohammed and Buddha, but keep Jesus out of it. Let them have superficial knowledge about what others believe, but don’t give them anything practical that they can use; don’t, for any sake, allow them to understand that they belong to a Christian heritage.
Don’t give them the life skill that is prayer.
Whoever has chosen this path is sending a very damaging message to the children. In an education authority where 44% of the population attends church, acknowledges God as its Father, and communicates regularly with Him in prayer, the children are effectively being told: this is nothing to do with you. You may hear prayers, you may know praying people, but what is that to you?
A curriculum which fails to reflect the local community is letting its young people down. I thought that the Western Isles had learned that lesson with the Gaelic language. There was a day when it was the norm for children to hear and speak only Gaelic in the community; and to hear and speak only English in school. With enlightenment and the lifting of anti-Gaelic prejudice came a desire to let the school be an extension of the culture in which it was situated.
Everyone realised that this was the right way to educate children – the function of a school should never be to wean the child away from his heritage.
Yet, here we stand in 2017. Children from Christian homes, from Bible-believing homes, go to a school where prayer is not uttered. They sit down to eat, and grace is not said. God – their God, and the God of their parents – is not acknowledged.
When I was a child, my parents sent me to school, secure in the knowledge that the values of our home would be extended into my school day. We began each morning with the Lord’s Prayer; we commenced each meal with a blessing. Nobody tried to impose anything on us – it was simply how the day was framed. Some of my peers have grown up to be atheists, some to be Christians. The place given to prayer in the school day did not ‘brainwash’ any of us – but it did affirm the values of our island community.
Those who became atheists are not, I pray, a finished product, but a work in progress.
I can pray for them because my Lord showed me how. And they, when darkness threatens to overwhelm, can pray for themselves because our school allowed them to learn that skill.
Whoever has decided to end the use of prayer in a primary school in Lewis has made a mistake. But God is merciful, and He allows second chances. He forgives those that trespass against Him.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with an acknowledgement of our Father in Heaven. It ends by giving Him the glory.
I pray, with the entire Christian community of Lewis, that this story will finish that way too.