This afternoon I did an assembly in one of our local Infant school’s on the theme of names:
Preparation and materials
- You will need some name trays or labels from the new Reception class. If possible, choose children who have the same first name as someone else in the school.
- Have available a class register from an older class.
- You will also need a reader for the Bible passage, 1 Samuel 3.4-10 (Good News Translation).
- Toothpaste, spoon and knife.
Welcome everyone back to school after the summer break.
Explain that many new pupils have joined the school in Reception and that others have moved home and schools over the summer. Welcome the new children in particular and say that everyone hopes they will all soon settle happily into the school family.
Introduce a few of the new Reception children. Show a name tray or label and ask the child to identify him or herself. Welcome the child by saying what a lovely name he or she has and ask if anyone else in the school has the same name. Ask those children to stand at the front so that the children who have the same name are standing together.
Show a class register from a more senior class and explain to the new children that their teacher will often call out the names in the register to check whether the children are at school that day. Demonstrate by asking the children in the older class to respond as their names are called out.
Ask the new children if they have learnt the names of all the children in their class yet. Now ask all the children if any of them have found that the teachers haven’t yet worked out who they are. Ask if anyone has been called by the wrong name. Point out that this can sometimes be funny, and sometimes a bit annoying.
Share with the children a brief anecdote from your own childhood, illustrating the anxiety of a new school. Ask if anyone was feeling anxious about the new term, their new teachers or new classes. Explain that often the teachers are also feeling anxious about their new classes and trying to learn all the names!
Tell them that although you know quite a lot of their names it will take you some time to get to know the names of all the new children. Ask the children about their own names. Does everyone have a middle name? Does anyone have more than three names? Try to include a variety of names from different countries and cultures, reflecting the diversity of the school.
Explain that Christians believe that God also knows each child’s name. There is a story in the Bible about a child called Samuel whom God calls by name. Ask if any children in the school are called Samuel. In the Bible story, Samuel was very young when he found out that God knew his name.
Samuel lived with a man called Eli and he worked in the temple of God. Samuel had furniture, lamp stands and plates to polish and errands to run for Eli. It was Samuel’s job to make sure that the lamps didn’t go out before the sun came up. In the morning, it was his job to open the doors wide and let the daylight in. Samuel worked very hard.
As Samuel got older, he began to get to know God for himself, just like you are doing. One night, after Eli and Samuel had gone to bed, something unusual happened. All of a sudden, Samuel woke up. Someone was calling his name.
Ask the reader to read the Bible passage, 1 Samuel 3.4-10.
Ask the children to join in by speaking Eli’s words, ‘No, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed,’ every time you nod your head. When the reader has finished reading the Bible passage, continue the story.
From that time on, Samuel knew that God wanted to speak to him and he always listened. God blessed Samuel and when he grew up, Samuel became a priest like Eli and also a great prophet. God knew Samuel from the moment he was born. God knew Samuel’s name and he spoke to him.
Christians believe that God knows our names and wants to speak to us, too. God wants to tell us his wonderful story and he wants us to learn to follow him just like Samuel did.
Show the Mr Men books to the children and enthuse about them – their names are special because they tell us what kind of characters they are. For example, you could ask, ‘Why is this character’s name Mr Jelly?’ and seek the answer that it’s because he’s scared of everything.
Sometimes, God chooses to change someone’s name, for example, Saul became Paul after his experience on the road to Damascus when he saw the risen Jesus. And Jesus changed Simon’s name to ‘Peter’, which means ‘Rock’.
In Bible times, people thought very carefully when they named their babies, and every name had a meaning. The name ‘Jesus’ was chosen by God himself. It was announced by the angel, who also gave the reason for the name: ‘for he will save his people from their sins’ (the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘the Lord saves’).
Jesus has quite a few other names and titles: Christians call him, Son of God, Christ, Messiah, Lord, Emmanuel, to name but a few. These all tell us something about his nature and his importance to Christians.
Even God has a number of different names. He is called by different names in the Bible (Yahweh, Lord, Father, for example). These names mean different things to different people and show us something of the nature of who He is.
Names are special and we should be careful how we use them. We should not be unkind about names, or make fun of people’s names, or give people cruel nicknames. Ask the children, have they ever done things that they knew were wrong but just couldn’t quite stop themselves? Give some examples, such as joining in with name calling, or being silly in class just because everyone else is doing it.
Say that you’re a bit like this with a new tube of toothpaste. You were always told by your mum, ‘Squeeze it from the bottom’, but it’s such a temptation to squeeze it in the middle and watch the toothpaste ooze out like a long worm. Then ‘accidentally’ squeeze the tube. Realize with horror what you’ve done! Oh no! What am I going to do? How can I get it back?
Begin to take suggestions and invite some of the children to have a go at putting it back in. Have a few things ready to assist – e.g. knife, spoon, etc. – plus tissues or wipes!
Realize that it’s a hopeless task – once it’s out, it can’t be put back in easily. The damage is done. Compare this with the idea of saying things we know we shouldn’t – upsetting or rude things. Once the words are out we can’t put them back in. We can try to mend things afterwards but it would be so much better if we thought before we spoke or acted. Before we let the words squeeze out – we should THINK!
Time for reflection
To become a good listener like Samuel, we need to learn to be quiet and still. Let’s be very still for a few moments. What can we hear inside? What can we hear outside?
Think for a moment about your own name. Say it silently in your head. Does it have a special meaning? Are you named after someone in your family? Do your family and friends have a shortened version of your name they like to call you by?
Dear God, thank you for a new school year. Thank you for everyone in our school family, from the youngest to the oldest. Thank you that you know our names and they were specially chosen for us. Thank you that we are each very, very special to you. Help us to learn more about you so that we can follow you like Samuel did. Amen.