Oxford college banned Christian group from freshers’ fair

As the university academic year kicks off, once again, we see a Christian Union having their activities on campus restricted.  Balliol Christian Union (CU) was banned from attending the Freshers’ Fair by the JCR over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers” and because they wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

The decision has caused anger at Balliol, where a motion was reportedly passed unanimously accusing the JCR committee of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative:

“We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

“Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

In a Facebook post, JCR president Hubert Au said the decision to have a multi-faith stall rather than a specific CU stall, was reached “in light of both concerns raised by members [of the Welfare sub committee] and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term, which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located”, the paper reported.  “We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair.”

The Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said:

“Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental principle that underpins our country and its great institutions and universities.

“Christian Unions represent some of the largest student led organisations in many universities across the country and to exclude them in this way is to misunderstand the nature of debate and dialogue and at odds with the kind of society we are all seeking to promote.”

The Rev Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF) said:

“We are however concerned that the current desire to provide safe spaces on campus does not infringe on the core liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of association which are surely foundational to the university experience and indeed to basic human flourishing.”

Children’s & youth work links

Links from the world of children’s and youth ministry:

How do we help young people to pray?: Joel Goodlet has written a great blog on the need to stop sending out the invitation to ‘try prayer’ and find a way instead to encourage our young people to devote themselves to prayer.

Hugh Hefner Wrecked My Life. . . Sort Of. . .: Walt Mueller blogs on the cultural impact that Hugh Hefner had.

If you have not read the Nashville Statement, please don’t: Steve Holmes nails it, on how the Nashville Statement is framed to try to make us take sides, and the loudest responses have been similarly framed.

The Annual Bullying Survey 2017: the fifth and largest edition of our yearly benchmark of bullying in the United Kingdom. Ditch the Label, the anti-bullying charity, surveyed over 10,000 young people aged 12-20 in partnership with schools and colleges from across the country.

Regular Energy Drink Use by Young Adults May Hike Risk of Substance Abuse: A new study by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers suggests young adults who regularly consume highly caffeinated energy drinks may be at risk for future substance use.

Every school should have a therapist

Lord Layard also wants government to assess how much value schools add to pupils’ happiness.
Every school should have an on-site therapist, according to one of the country’s leading economists and wellbeing experts.
Lord Layard, director of the wellbeing programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, has also called for all schools to employ a senior teacher in charge of mental health.

He wants child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) to provide therapeutic services in schools. “Extra money for child mental health should be devoted to building a school-based wing of Camhs,” he said.

Lord Layard said this should include trained therapists in schools. “I would use the word ‘therapist’, rather than ‘counsellor’,” he said.

He suggested that the government should assess how much value schools add to pupils’ happiness. “If the only thing measured is exams, we will never get anything else given equal importance to that,” he told a conference on wellbeing and mental health in education, organised by the International Positive Education Network.

“Happiness and wellbeing should be something that the school uses, to see how well it’s doing. How well does a school do in changing the happiness of its children?

“Eventually…every school will have a senior teacher in charge of mental health.”

Speaking at the same conference on Friday, Mario Piacentini, of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), spoke about the organisation’s new ranking of developed countries by pupils’ levels of happiness.

“The number-one driver of dissatisfaction is anxiety,” Dr Piacentini said. “More than one in two students in the OECD worries excessively about the difficulty of exams. They get very tense, even if they perceive they’re well-prepared for the exam.”

But, he added, teachers are able to allay this anxiety to some degree.

“Whenever students feel support from their teachers – if the teacher adapts the lesson for the class’s skills and knowledge – there is a reduction in anxiety.

“But, if there are problems of communication with teachers, the level of anxiety jumps up.”

Study finds Sex & Relationships Education doesn’t reduce STIs and teen pregnancy

Young Couple Relaxing Near River Enjoying Sunny Day

The following is excerpted from an online article posted on LifeSiteNews:

A new peer-reviewed study of multiple “sexual and reproductive health” educational programs in several countries finds no evidence of improved health outcomes in any program studied.

According to the authors of the study, “School-based interventions for preventing HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy in adolescents,” published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, “There is little evidence that educational curriculum-based programs alone are effective in improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes for adolescents.”

The study’s authors reviewed eight studies that examined sex-education programs in schools in Africa, Latin America and Europe with a total of 55,157 participants, and performed randomized controlled trials on their data. They found the programs had no measurable impact on the rate of sexually-transmitted diseases among participants or rates of pregnancy.

“In these trials, the educational programs evaluated had no demonstrable effect on the prevalence of HIV or other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections),” the authors write, noting that in addition to HIV infection they also looked at results regarding herpes and syphilis. “There was also no apparent effect on the number of young women who were pregnant at the end of the trial,” they add.

The authors note that many studies of adolescent sex-education programs measure the programs’ effectiveness by examining their “effects on knowledge or self-reported behavior” rather than “biological outcomes” such as the rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among program participants. In examining biological outcomes, the authors could find no benefit from such programs.

The findings of the study are consonant with other studies of “comprehensive” sex-education programs that show them to be ineffective or even counterproductive, particularly in comparison with abstinence-only programs.

Children’s and Young People writing

Key findings about children and young people writing in 2015 from the Literacy Trust, based on a survey of 32,569 children and young people aged 8 to 18, include:

  • Fewer children and young people enjoyed writing in 2015 compared with the previous year, with enjoyment levels dropping from 49.3% in 2014 to 44.8% in 2015.
  • Fewer children and young people wrote something daily outside class in 2015 than in 2014, with daily writing levels decreasing from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015. Daily writing levels also continue to be in stark contrast to daily reading levels, which have increased dramatically over the past couple of years.
  • When asked whether they ever write something that they don’t share with anyone else, nearly half (46.8%) of children and young people said they did.
  • Technology-based formats, such as text messages (68.6%), messages on social networking sites (44.3%) and instant messages (46.2%) continue to dominate the writing that children and young people engaged in outside class in 2015. Notes (3%), letters (25.8%) and lyrics (24.6%) are the most frequently written non-technology formats. With the exception of poems, most formats of writing have again decreased in 2015.
  • Attitudes towards writing have remained unchanged in 2015.

Read the full findings here.

It leaves me reflecting on how we encourage journaling with teenagers in the church.

It’s encouraging to see that 46.8% of children and young people write things that they don’t share with anyone else, but with daily writing outside the classroom dropping substantially from 27.2% in 2014 to 20.7% in 2015 I think we need to look at how we recommend technology-based formats of journaling.

Christmas video 22: 10 year old girl Kaylee Rodgers sings brilliant version of Hallelujah

A 10-year-old girl from Northern Ireland has gone viral after a video of her singing a variation on Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ for her school choir performance was posted on Facebook.

Kaylee Rodgers, from Donaghadee, County Down, has autism and ADHD, and began singing as a way to build her confidence.

The video of her singing the Killard House school choir’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ has attracted more than 200,000 views from people around the world.

It was originally posted by parent Nichola Martin, who was proud of her son Blake who also took part in the choir.

Kaylee told ITV that she was excited just to be singing, but that it was also “amazing” that the video had received so much attention.  She said:

“I just loved doing it.”

Colin Millar, head teacher at Killard House, said:

“For a child who came in P4 and would really talk, couldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing.  It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part.”

The alternative lyrics sung by Kaylee were written by contemporary Christian rock band Cloverton, who are based in Kansas.  Their version was posted on YouTube in 2014

Christmas video 19: Jesus: Truth or Fairytale

“Jesus: Truth or Fairytale?” a Christmas video resource aimed at 16-19 year olds. For many young people Christmas is a fairytale, a nice story we repeat each year. This video asks the question, what if God really came to town?

The video features Meg Cannon reciting a spoken word piece that brings back the grit, humanity and truth into the nativity story, and then questions what that might change. If Jesus’ birth was a real event, what does that mean for me and what does that mean for you?

 

Christmas Eve All-Age Talk 2014: Christmas Selfies

Towards the end of November each year the Oxford Dictionaries announce their word of the year.  In 2013 they chose “selfie” as the word for 2013.  Its formal definition is:

“a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”

 

Apparently, the word was first used on an Australian online form in 2002, but its recorded uses from 2012 to 2013 increased by 17,000% from the previous year.

 

It’s even gained some derivatives, such as welfie, which is a selfie taken while doing a workout, and shelfie, which is a photo of your own bookshelf.

 

Some prominent leaders got in trouble for taking a selfies at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela.  We’ve got selfies from space, alongside selfies from the diving board.  Even cats are getting in on the act!

 

This year royalty have joined in the fun, here’s a selfies of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from their trip to Australia, and the Queen looking a little nervous as a young lad snaps one of her and him.

 

The children’s and youth team here love a good selfie, encouraged by the young people who took this one just before the paint party at Soul Survivor in the summer.

 

Santa and his elves even enjoy a cheeky selfies when they have a moment.

 

Not that there’s anything new about selfies – they’ve been around since the camera was invented. And even before that, Vincent Van Gogh perfected the self portrait. Although, of course, he didn’t upload it to a social media website, because there were no such things as social media websites. The nearest thing to such a website would be a wall in an art gallery, perhaps.

 

But God was ahead of the selfie game long before the post-impressionists set paint to canvas: as the opening chapter of Genesis reminds us, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And he, if you like, uploaded his selfies to his creation, to this planet earth, so that the rest of his creation could see them.

 

Unfortunately, that selfie often comes out a little blurred, and leaves God hard to recognize.  So God had another go, he decided that he would call a people to be his own people, who would show the people of the world what God was like, so that other people could see him in them. But that didn’t seem to work either – again the image of God, the selfie that God tried to create was blurred.

 

So God had yet another go: this selfie needed to be a whole person, a whole life, devoted to showing what God is really like. And so God sent his son into the world.  Jesus is God’s ultimate ‘selfie’ – as the letter to the Hebrews puts it ”he is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being,”

 

But in God’s selfie, which we are celebrating this Christmas time, we don’t see presidents and prime ministers, but rather peasants and shepherds; we don’t see stunning surroundings, but an animal feeding trough, in a borrowed stable, in a country under military occupation by a foreign power.

 

God didn’t take a selfie to associate with famous people, or to be seen in exotic places – it was purely to make absolutely sure that we’re in no doubt about what God is like; to give us the best possible image, free from the distortion of human brokenness and sinfulness.

 

If we want to know what God is like, we can look at Jesus – not because Jesus is like God, but because Jesus is God – God’s selfie.

 

So God is the one who says “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”; God says “Let the children come to me”; God says “No-one will snatch you out of my hand”; God says, over and over again “Do not be afraid”.

 

Jesus told his disciples, at the end of his earthly life, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”

 

From God’s selfie, we know that God is loving, sacrificial and forgiving, willing to go to any length to reach us in our need – and I think that’s a selfie worth sharing!

 

But think for just a bit more. What does that then say about us, those of us who are followers of Jesus. You see, most of the selfies that I look at on the internet are of people I’ve never met, people I’ve never seen in real life. At the other end of his life, after his death and resurrection, Jesus left this world to return to his heavenly father. But he left behind selfies, so that people would discover him and come to know him. And those selfies were his followers, those selfies are his followers today.

 

Do you want to know what God looks like, look at Jesus – because Jesus is God. Do you want to know what Jesus looks like, look at us, look at you and me – because the church is Jesus, the church is the body of Christ here on earth. Isn’t that amazing?

 

Christingles

Today we celebrate the good news by lighting Christingles.  Christingle literally means “Christ light” and celebrates the light of Jesus coming into the world.  In John’s gospel, his account of Jesus’ life, Jesus is described as the “light of men”: “The Light shines in darkness but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

 

The Orange stands for the world, with all its sin and suffering.  We have seen a lot of that on television recently – with the bin lorry accident in Glasgow, shootings in Australia and the USA, wars around the world.   It’s such a shame because this world could be a really nice place to live in.  But evil people do evil things.

 

The Candle stands for Jesus coming into this world, as the light of the world.  As we heard earlier, Jesus said: “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Jesus’ birth, which we celebrate at Christmas is the like the lighting of the candle.

 

LIGHT THE CANDLE

 

The red ribbon stands for the blood of Jesus.  Jesus, the little baby whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas – was killed on a cross when he was only 33 years old.

 

He died so that we could become part of God’s family.  Jesus blood was spilled to take away the evil of the world – to wash us and makes us whiter than snow.

 

The red ribbon is placed around the orange to show that – when Jesus died – it was for the whole world.  When evil men killed Jesus – an act, which we remember on Good Friday – they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good.

 

BLOW OUT THE CANDLE ON THE CHRISTINGLE

 

And it seemed for three days that the Light of the world had been put out.

 

RELIGHT THE CHRISTINGLE CANDLE

 

However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead and every Christmas we are reminded that Jesus continues to shine in the darkness.

 

The four cocktail sticks stand for the four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter.  On the sticks there are fruit, nuts and sweets to show the good fruits in the earth.

 

The fruit also reminds us if we are to follow Jesus, we too should produce good fruit. As St. Paul reminds us the fruit of God’s spirit in our lives is: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 6:22)

 

I’d like to leave you with a final thought.  When people killed Jesus, they thought that they had put out the light of the world for good. However God relit it, when he raised Jesus from the dead.  And so I’d like to encourage you to think about this every time you see a candle on a Christingle or on an advent wreath.

 

Jesus’ birth is the like the lighting of the candle.  And although it was blown out later by bad men, God re-lit the candle and it continues to shine in the darkness.  And we should live our lives so that people see that we shine too, as the Candle – just like Jesus.  For we too need to bring love, help and support to others who need our love and God’s love.

Christmas Assembly: Crackers and Chocolates

I’ve used this assembly in our local Infant and Junior schools with much enjoyment from children, staff and parents:

What are you most looking forward to this Christmas?

  • the presents
  • the parties
  • a special time with my family
  • the food
  • singing Christmas songs
  • the magic of it all

Most of us look forward to something at Christmas. The anticipation (the looking forward) is sometimes as much fun as Christmas itself!

Pick some children to come up to the front.  How do you feel to have a cracker in your hand? (Try to draw out feelings of excitement and anticipation.)  How much do you want to pull the cracker and see what’s inside?  What do you expect to find inside?  Now pull your cracker. (Let the children enjoy the contents!)  What do you think of what’s inside?

Crackers are really exciting because the contents are a surprise. Sometimes we’re pleased with the gift inside, sometimes disappointed.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jews were excited about the coming of a Saviour.

At that time, their enemies had attacked their land and taken them all away as prisoners. They were forced to settle down in a foreign country. They were homesick. They longed to go back to their own land, their own villages, towns and homes.

A man called Isaiah told them about a coming Saviour who would set them free. Isaiah said:

‘For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.’

Wow! A child. Mighty God! Prince of Peace! Endless peace! No more suffering! Freedom from exploitation!  The people must have been so excited. The anticipation must have been too much to bear! A million times more exciting than holding a cracker in your hand!

The birth of the baby Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecy Isaiah had made many years before.

Here’s a recap of the Christmas story:

A long time ago, God made the Galaxy, beautiful, rich, wonderful.  And filled it with people, people he made, people he loved, people like you and me, people who were all special to him. And he gave these people everything, all kinds of FRUIT SKITTLES.  Everything except one tree, one Fruit Pastille others which they were told not to eat.

But the people wanted to do things their own way, so they did a BREAKAWAY from God. Trouble is, after the breakaway everything started to go wrong.  Really really ROCKY.  Suffering, pain, loneliness, bullying, violence, death.  Because we’d chosen our way instead of God’s way.

Everything just got really HARIBO (horrible).  So to give them a BOOST God promised that things would change.  One day a special person would come and put things right, I’m telling you the truth, I’m not LION.)

Many years later, a girl called Mary heard a WISPA, from an angel who said that she would be the Mother of God’s son. But how could this be? She was not yet married to Joseph. To have a baby now would be a TOPIC of conversation in the village.  But before she could say CHOCOLATE COATED PEANUTS she was pregnant.

Poor Joseph.  Well his brain was in a TWIRL and mush like MARSHMALLOWS and he had to take TIME OUT and have a lie down.  As he slept, he had a dream, and an angel explained everything, and soon this became as clear as FOX’S GLACIER MINTS.  And when he woke up he decided to have a WORTHER’S ORIGINAL to remind him og the good old days.

But before the baby arrived, political events overtook them – Joseph had to return to Bethlehem for the census – it was 80 miles away – a MARATHON (Snickers) journey, over stony hills which were CRUNCHIE under foot, and when you are pregnant it’s no bed of ROSES but Joseph thought the BREAK would do her good.

When they arrived, Joseph tried to find lodgings, but CLUB after CLUB let them down – No room they all said. Eventually they were offered a little out house – it was there that the little baby was born. He was named Jesus, which means Saviour. He was laid in a manger, lined with hay and STRAW (Sherbet straw!)

And though Joseph was a bit confused, he was a good egg, you couldn’t hope to meet a KINDER man (Kinder Egg), so he decided to look after Mary, and God’s baby.

So the story goes that Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem.  Mary was heavily pregnant, and Joseph wondered if she’d FLAKE out on the journey.

They finally found a room full of animals – might not have been a stable, sometimes people lived in a house with a split floor, animals on one level, people on the next, so maybe the innkeeper let them into his home. We don’t know what sort of animals were there, but by morning there was Jesus NESTLEing in his mothers arms.

All sorts of strange visitors started to turn up.

That night, some shepherds, heard holy music makers, MINSTRELS in the sky. “Glory to God in the Highest”.  The shepherds decided to take a break (KIT-KAT) from looking after the sheep. Let’s GO and see what’s happening in Bethlehem.  So straight as an AERO they headed for Bethlehem to find Jesus.  And they were there in a JAFFA. 

When they were there they found the TRIO, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who was lying in a manger. It was not at all a NICE place; smelly and dirty – not really a fit place for a maternity ward. They were however UNITED in their wonder, they REVELled at the thought that this child was special. Could this be just as the prophets had foretold – was this the LION of Judah? It was getting late, AFTER EIGHT, in fact – so the shepherds returned to the hills – huffing and PUFFIN and singing praise to God as they went.

Meanwhile in a far country, some SMARTIES, wise men were busily scanning the GALAXY, when they saw a STARBURST near the MILKY WAY. Was it MARS? No it was a special STAR – signalling the birth of a King. They travelled long and hard over TOBLERONE mountains and reached Herod’s Palace – they were not embarrassed to HOBNOB with royalty.

Herod was very interested – “A King has been born?” – He didn’t believe them and called theM ALL TEASERS, but just to make sure – he tried to FUDGE the issue by saying that he wanted to go and worship the baby – and told the wise men to report to him on their way back.  Herod was extremely dangerous to know, not the type of person who would give you his last ROLO or share his CHOCOLATE ORANGE.  The wise men travelled until the found Jesus and they brought out their KINGTSIZE gifts, no TWIX, just BOUNTY: GOLD, frankincense, and Myrrh.  Then God warned them in a dream that Herod was up to his TWIX again, seeking the child’s life. So they took the TIME OUT to return by another route.  Herod sat in his sumptuous palace, seething and plotting and grabbing handfuls of JELLY BABIES  and biting off their heads, a terrible sign of what was to come.

Now that’s the familiar story – the CLASSIC tale, told at Christmas. It has little to do with reindeer and FLAKES of snow and robins and a baby in a clean crib decorated with tinsel. The original story was not that NICE. Jesus was born a refugee, he was a threat, a danger – don’t miss the meaning.

Jesus was born so that ALLSORTS of people, RANDOMS might know God’s love for them. Many people are looking for meaning and purpose – some kind of REFRESHER in life – a BOOST in difficult times. The Christmas Story really is cause for CELEBRATION, Jesus is no MINATURE HERO!

But what a surprise! A mighty king born in a stable? With poor parents?  There were lots of different reactions to Jesus’ birth.

  • King Herod, the man who was king when he was born, tried to kill him.
  • Many Jews were disappointed and couldn’t believe that Jesus was the one promised long ago. They said, ‘What a letdown! A King? No way! A Saviour? You must be joking!’
  • Other people knew that God can work in surprising ways. They came to worship the newborn king.

Time for reflection

Today there are still lots of different reactions to Christmas.

Some people love it; others hate it.

Some people look forward to it; others worry about it.

Some people have too much to do; others sit at home alone.

Some people celebrate the birth of Jesus; others do not.

Prayer

Father God,

thank you for Christmas,

for all that we are looking forward to this year.

Help us to remember those who are not looking forward to Christmas.

Help us to be there for them.

Amen.

 

Best children’s Christmas story book

Jesus' Christmas PartyOne of my favourite resources for the Christmas season is Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan.

Nicholas Allan writes and illustrates the nativity through the eyes of a grumpy inn keeper who is unexpectedly at the centre of Jesus’ birth.  The story follows him as he is woken up repeatedly by Mary and Joseph and guests visiting the newborn.

I first heard of the book when I was a child and it was used for a Sunday School drama to present the Christmas narrative to the whole church.  As a children’s and youth worker I’ve used it numerous times, be it with young pre-school children, older teenagers, or non-Christian adults.  The book is easy for people to follow and join in, and yet still allows for profounds truths to be taught.

It can be bought in a number of sizes – from A6 just to fit in the pocket and use to tell a large group of people, to a large A4 size which a class of children can crowd around and look at the pictures.

Singapore government say education is not about the grade, it’s about learning

Exams

Singapore’s education system has long been criticised for the emphasis on grades over the learning process. But it looks like the Ministry of Education wants to make a bold statement to counter that.

It just launched a touching commercial based on a true story of a student and her teacher Madam Phua:

The video shows how Phua guided Shirley through a failing grade with Geography lessons. Both student and teacher continue to keep in touch today, according to the ad.