Candlemas: for schools and homes

One of the things I love about living in a small country village is that my roles (DDE, priest, Director, Trustee …) are completely ignored. There’s a village quiz tonight and no one will ask me about my job. I will glory, when talking to the farmers, in the price of potatoes, milk and the latest tractor. As much as I love my ordained friends and my colleagues and friends in schools (and I do), socialising with non-Church, non-school people is very refreshing. When I was living with the immense stress of headship of a London school it was deeply de-stressing to come and be with people for whom I might as well have worked in Timbuktu. One of the things I notice in people’s homes here, perhaps especially in the least churched homes, is the ubiquity of candles. Fireplaces and mantelpieces full of candles, downstairs toilets, hallways, decorated with candles. Gardens and conservatories littered with candles in various wind resisting containers. And, of course, candles on tables and cakes.

It is the same in schools. Prayer or reflection corners are nearly universal in church schools and are often to be found in community schools. Whatever the reflection corners contain: bibles, pebbles, gongs, Christmas lights, pictures of pets, grannies, newspaper articles, prayer requests on cut-out leaves or post-it notes, there is almost always a candle or two, sometimes battery powered sometimes wax. Schools often have battery powered night lights in other, shared areas, for prayer, and very many schools light candles at the beginning of collective worship and blow them out at the end. Often the task of lighting and extinguishing candles is much sought after and offered as a reward.

This is a wonderful opportunity for evangelism and to strengthen links between church and school. The feast of the Presentation, better known in this context as Candlemas* is a really good time to exploit this opportunity. The parish church could buy a year’s supply of candles for the school (wax or battery powered, check which the school would prefer). I would really encourage schools to use wax, lightable candles in prayer corners and collective worship, but battery tea lights in areas where children and adults can go on their own to pray and where the candles might be left unattended. In the north-west B and M and Home Bargains invariably have candle stands for tea lights, as, of course, do IKEA and other places. If battery tea lights are used the stands could be emptied at the end of each week to allow new opportunities for prayer.

A further development might be to give each child a battery tea light to take home for a prayer corner in their bedroom or in family areas, perhaps with a prayer card, a prayer like this might be on the card:

God of night and day,

you give us Jesus, born at Christmas,

this candle reminds us

that he sends his angels to guard us.

May your holy angels

live with us and guard us in peace,

and may you always bless us

in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Collective Worship on or near February 2nd (Candlemas) could then be an opportunity for members of the congregation to present the candles to school and for the candles to be blessed. Traditionally the feast involves a procession with candles, the whole school could walk around and deliver the candles to classroom prayer corners leaving the children and their candles at each room as they arrive. If the oldest children are left to last they could be carrying real, lit candles for each room. Times and Seasons is the Church of England’s book that contains suggestions of services for Candlemas. Here are some ideas for prayers adapted from that. Brackets include suggested changes to vocabulary. I have shortened the sections and suggested some music for children to sing. I’m showing my working on the introductory passage to show how I think the language of liturgy can be adapted for use in school, thinking about how words sound when read aloud eg ‘carry’ is much easier to hear than ‘bear’.

The leader introduces the prayers:

Dear friends, forty days ago (on the 25th December) we celebrated the birth of  Jesus. Now we recall (remember) the day on which he was presented in the Temple (in Jerusalem), when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

[I think I would omit this: As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified, as we now come to him for cleansing.]

In their old age Simeon and Anna recognized him as their Lord, (just) as we today sing of his glory.

[Omit: In this eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.]

Today we celebrate his birth and look ahead to Good Friday and Easter Day when we remember that he died for us and rose again.

A sung response is good for the following sections, I suggest the response Blessed be God! from the Offertory hymn “Blest are you Lord God of all creation …” in Celebration Hymnal and other books:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe.

All   Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!

You gave us Jesus to be the light of the world; he makes our darkness to be light.

All Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!

Through the Holy Spirit your love burns within us, bearing witness to your truth.

All  Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!

As we bear (carry) your light, may our lips never cease to sing your praise.

All Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God! (Blessed be God)
Blessed be God forever! Amen!

Times and Seasons doesn’t provide any formula for blessing the candles but I think that is really needed. This prayer might be used, and water could be sprinkled (children, like adults, need concrete signs), a proper aspergelium is not necessary, just a cutting from the nearest conifer and a bowl of water will do, be generous when sprinkling, liturgical signs need to be strong. I wrote this prayer based very loosely on the blessing in the Roman Catholic rite for Candlemas:

O God, you give us light

and sent us Jesus to be the light of the world.

We ask that in answer to our prayers

you would be pleased to sanctify these candles with your blessing ✠

so that they may be signs of our prayers 

and remind us of Jesus who came to save us.

We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The procession could begin at the crib if that has been left up in the school hall and the following responses used with the children singing “The light of Christ has come into the world” after each bidding and continuing to sing as the candles are either given to class teachers/reps or processed around the school. Otherwise begin immediately singing “The light of Christ …”

We stand near the place of new birth.

The light of Christ has come into the world …

We turn from the crib to the cross.

The light of Christ has come into the world …

We go to carry his light.

The light of Christ has come into the world …

It would be good to teach in the Worship about Lent and Holy Week and the Easter holiday to come and remind the children of what the school does to mark those celebrations.

Of course, families could be encouraged to stock up with candles and invite the vicar round or bless the candles themselves.

***

* I know purists would rather call this feast The Presentation or even The Purification, but words like Candlemas have survived because they have a simplicity to them and are part of our culture. Just as I’ve never understood why people object to the beautiful word christening. What could possibly be wrong with putting Christ into our vocabulary? I am a great believer that schools should preserve these words and names and pass them on to children, when I was a Head the ‘Autumn Term’ was always called Michaelmas.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s