When people are brought together for a special service in Britain—on Remembrance Sunday at a local War Memorial, or a Christmas carol service at a school—the service almost always includes the Lord’s Prayer. But over the past years fewer and fewer people seem able to say it. This is especially true of children. For the first time in our country’s long history, we are producing a generation which cannot pray, “Our Father…”
No one planned things to be this way. Few people—whether churchgoers or not, whether Christians or not—believe that children should be kept in ignorance of this prayer and the place it has in our community, our traditions and our culture. The ignorance of this prayer is tragic. And it can change. A major ecumenical initiative in working to ensure that it does change.
Across Britain, local groups are organising “Our Father” projects. The plan is a simple one. In addition to helping children to know the Lord’s Prayer, it enables them to practice— and enjoy—handwriting, and to indulge in creative artwork. The project is sponsored by an ecumenical charitable trust which has run projects in schools for some years, but it is actually organised by small local groups.
A leaflet is sent to local primary schools, inviting the children to do two things: to write out the Lord’s Prayer in good handwriting and to decorate it in any way they like, and then to answer three simple questions: What does “hallowed” mean? What are “trespasses”? And, who taught us this prayer?
The initiative began in London, and from there was taken up by local groups in the Midlands and in Kent—and this year it is spreading further, and very rapidly. The groups that have taken it up include Ordinariate groups—members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established for Anglicans coming into full Communion with the Catholic church. The London project was organised by members of the Ladies Ordinariate Group based at the Church of the Precious Blood at London Bridge.
Entries for the 2014 project revealed some beautiful work, some of which went on display in a couple of churches. The rules of the project specify that each entry must consist of one A4 page. The children’s artwork included some beautiful and imaginative use of silver foil, paints, ribbons, and glitter as well as felt-tips and crayons.
The initiative began with the leaflet going just to Church of England and Catholic primary schools. Local organisers can make their own decisions about which primary school might want (or not want) to take part. Or they can decide to involve all local primary schools, or just church schools, or cover a specific area as a pilot project. The project is open to all children in Britain who are in Year 5 at primary school. (Year 5 is the penultimate year of primary school). The entries are sent in to the local organisers, and prizes are awarded for the best. Every child receives a small Gospel booklet with the words of the Lord’s Prayer on the inside front cover, and a place for the child to sign his/her name.
Christian Projects, the ecumenical charitable trust sponsoring this has supervised various projects for schools over a 25-year period. The funding enables good-quality brochures to go to schools and attractive books prizes to be awarded. Postage and all other costs are also covered, but the actual work of reading and judging the entries, and mailing out the prizes—or, where the schools wish it, visiting the schools to present them, is for volunteers.
As the project grows, the plan is that within the next ten years, it will be normal for children across Britain to be taught the Lord’s Prayer, and to understand its significance. Then perhaps we will no longer have youngsters standing in embarrassed silence when, at a War Memorial service in November, the younger generation are unable to pray the prayer that sustained those who fought for their freedom, the prayer that has been at the heart of Britain’s community life since the Faith first arrived on British shores almost nineteen centuries ago.
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