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Reform Magazine | April 23, 2024

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘They have a “mini church” once a week in breaktime. They’re eight. It’s unusual’ - Reform Magazine

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘They have a “mini church” once a week in breaktime. They’re eight. It’s unusual’

Paul Kerensa appreciates the interfaith work of eight-year-olds

Recently at my daughter’s school, RE spilled over into the playground. It started with a conversation – my eight-year-old daughter and her friend talking about their religions. ‘I’m a Christian, she’s a Hindu,’ she told me after pickup. ‘So we’ve been chatting in the playground about Diwali and Christmas.’ Ah, my interfaith heart was full!

This was at the end of last year, of course. Diwali happens in late October; Christmas happens in late December. I’m sure you knew at least one of those facts. My daughter and her friend thankfully know a few facts about each other’s beliefs too.

I mentioned this on a Radio 2 ‘Pause for Thought’ soon after. They didn’t follow my slot by playing ‘We Are the World’, but it felt like it, the outpouring of encouragement I heard about this multifaith playground conflab.

One listener happened to work for NATRE – the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education – and we soon got talking. I’ve always been a keen advocate for good RE in schools. From my primary RE lessons to a theology degree, to now being a parent to two curious children, I’ve seen the value in learning not just about Christianity but also other faiths, pondering how and why such diverse beliefs crop up.

The NATRE folks told me how RE provision has been lacking for some time, with no specific government backing for years. Yet it’s arguably more important than ever, as we seek to understand the world, and the people we share it with.

So the NATRE people asked if I’d be interested in joining a parliamentary round table. Yes I would! Then I realised the ‘House of’ I’d be going to was the house of me – it’s all done on Zoom now. But it’ll be a chance to pitch to MPs, Lords and Ladies and plead the corner in defence of RE. We speak next week.

RE has been undergoing a change recently, into ‘Religion and Worldviews’. This may look at first like a watering down, but I think it makes total sense. To draw a line in the sand at ‘religion’ in such lessons is a mistake. In today’s world, we should learn about ideological beliefs, organised religion, disorganised religion, shared values, customs, communism, fascism (I wish we didn’t), and the growing number of people identifying as ‘spiritual but not religious’.

My daughter’s playground conversation has spiralled into a chance to influence the sphere of politics. With debates in parliament on Islamophobia and the definition of antisemitism, I think we ought to help the next generation learn what today’s leaders have not.

So I’m grateful for the openness of my daughter and her friends. It’s already had a butterfly effect beyond measure.

Back in the playground, they’re talking and playing and becoming greater friends by understanding each other. They now have a ‘mini church’ once a week in breaktime. Three or four gather, sing a song, with one giving a little talk. (To remind you: they’re eight. It’s unusual.)

A new girl joined recently from Macau. (Know where that is? Me neither. I need to join these discussions.) Thanks to their easy chats, the new girl mentioned that her family are looking for a church to settle into. My daughter mentioned ours, so now our congregation benefits from this new Macanese family. We all benefit.

There may be division and intolerance in the world, but I’m learning, along with my daughter, that the smallest of conversations can send ripples that become shockwaves of goodness, tolerance and hope. If the world is one big playground, we’re all children trying to get along. So let’s play nice.

Paul Kerensa’s books include So a Comedian Walks into a Church, Noah’s Car Park Ark and Hark! The Biography of Christmas. Paul’s daughter has released no books yet but it’s clearly a matter of time.

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This article was published in the March 2022 edition of Reform

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