Cherish your education,
cherish the Church

Clare Rabjohns reports from the Proms Praise for Schools event, inspired by the 200th anniversary of the National Society for Promoting Religious Education

Tuesday 15 March 2011 saw what I would consider to be the most powerful incentive to continue to move forward in prayer in the Church of England and the Church in Wales. The Royal Albert Hall was full of reasons to hope and campaign for the future. It was full of primary school children with teachers, parents and others for the Proms Praise for Schools event.

Musical performances

The theme for the 2011 project was ‘Amazing Grace’ and was inspired by the 200th anniversary of the National Society for Promoting Religious Education. Schools all over London had been given the chance to learn music that would be performed that evening. Some were in the large schools choir, but all schoolchildren had the opportunity to participate and our school had spent weeks learning the many different songs. The music reflected 200 years of educating London schoolchildren and many of the diverse communities involved in that story right up to the present day were represented. There were also guest appearances from the amazing Psalm Drummers and Twyford School Gospel Choir (winners of the 2009 BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year).

Recognizing God’s goodness

The organizers stressed that the aim of the evening was simply to celebrate and recognize God’s goodness over hundreds of years and in the world today. All the elements of the evening were constructed to express God’s relationship with his people through his ‘Amazing Grace’ reflecting John Newton’s immortal words, that: ‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see’.

The evening saw key characters in the history of the Society, such as John Newton and Joshua Watson, brought to life to tell their part in the story and how, motivated by that Amazing Grace, they built schools, sheltered the outcasts and served the life of London.

The plea of Noel Tredinnick, who was conducting the All Souls Orchestra and a key part of the evening coming together, was that all those who were there should join us and sing and respond with a full heart of energy and excitement. Stamp, shout and sing – to praise the King of Kings and revel in his Amazing Grace!’

I am sure that most primary school teachers would tell you that when conducting an RE lesson, to consider embarking upon the topic of God’s amazing grace would be a brave undertaking considering the restraints of time and vocabulary within that kind of classroom context. But, I am also sure that not only the children at the Albert Hall, but everyone there, was completely filled that evening with an understanding of God and his Amazing Grace.

The evening began with that evocative song and was filled with beautiful music including ‘Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever’. Children are often called the church of the future. However, that evening showed what we have, now, in our grasp and under our care. Those children singing and worshipping are the church of our present and they are indeed a gift.

The final message of the evening was to ‘cherish your education and cherish the church’. God is indeed good and his mercy endureth forever. Whatever decisions are made about the ‘church’ and whatever we may feel about our own personal futures we are the one church as the people of God and need to cherish that. We need to cherish the gift of our schools and our children. We also need to respond to God’s goodness and enduring mercy with ‘a full heart of energy and excitement’. We need to have a child-like faith and ‘stamp, shout and sing – to praise the King of Kings and revel in his Amazing Grace’!

In their own words

Here are some quotations from the children that we took to the Albert Hall:

‘When we went to the Royal Albert Hall, I remember being really excited before it started. Then when we got inside and started singing I felt amazing! Everything was so great!’ (Eleanor Keogh, aged 11)

‘St Gabriel’s School Choir had loads of fun learning new songs. I think our favourite was ‘great, great, brill, brill’!! At the Royal Albert Hall it was so big and amazing. The choir was great, we were great and had lots of fun.’ (Latoya Edwards, aged 9)

‘With St Gabriel’s School Choir we went to the Royal Albert Hall to sing at the concert Amazing Grace. I loved all the songs! There were three actors who were pretending to be people from the past.

There was lots of confetti and fireworks and it was fun. Altogether it was a great evening and I will remember it forever.’ (Antonia Burgess, aged 9) ND