Saint Patrick’s Day (17 March)
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To relate the things that Patrick stood for to the children’s own experience.
Preparation and materials
- If possible, gather some images of headlines referring to revenge or theft, blown up to display as key words during the assembly.
- You will need a leader and a reader.
Leader Has anyone here ever had anything stolen from them? Maybe a pencil or a rubber from your pencil case . . .? Perhaps you've experienced something worse – maybe your house has been broken into and precious or expensive things taken, such as jewellery or a TV?
What do you feel like when that sort of thing happens to you? What are your feelings towards the person who is responsible – do you feel angry and want revenge?
That’s a lot of questions!
The person we are thinking about today had to face even more difficult problems. He is called Patrick and he lived about a thousand years ago, at a time just after the Romans had left Britain. He belonged to a rich family that owned farms and had lots of servants.
One day, though, while he was staying on one of his family's estates, he woke not to the sound of his servant gently rousing him but screams and the smashing of doors and windows. He was dragged from his bed by thugs jabbering at him in a foreign language. He was punched and kicked then chained up with anyone else who hadn't been able to escape. What do you think was happening?
It was slave raiders from Ireland! Within a few minutes, Patrick had changed from being a free and wealthy young man into a blood-spattered slave.
Reader Patrick was taken to Ireland and sold. He had to spend his days in the cold and rain looking after his owner's sheep.
In a strange way, though, this time of slavery gave him time to think about himself – and to pray, for Patrick was a Christian. In fact, his grandfather had been a priest.
Patrick felt that God was always close to him: 'I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn, I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain.'
After six years, God told Patrick that it was time to escape. He managed to and trekked for 200 miles until he reached the coast, then, after this long journey, he finally made it back home.
Imagine what his family must have felt, having given him up for dead, when he turned up bedraggled and worn out at their home.
What did Patrick himself feel? He said, 'Hurrah – no more cold days looking after smelly sheep! I'll be able to sleep in a warm bed and have lots of food and servants to wait on me.'
Leader The strange thing is that Patrick had grown to know and love his Irish captors. He dreamed that they were calling him back to Ireland to teach them about Christ.
So, after becoming a priest and then a bishop, that's what he did. He was, in a way, becoming a voluntary slave, but the really strange event came later, after Patrick had spent years as a missionary, telling the Irish people about Christ.
A rich landowner and tyrannical ruler in Ireland and possibly Britain called Coroticus came into conflict with Patrick when some of his men ransacked and burned down the houses of some newly baptized Christians and captured them, selling some of them as slaves and killing others.
What was Patrick to do?
He must have understood that, from Coroticus' point of view, he was only using his power as he saw fit. Also, Coroticus was an important Christian figure and Patrick would get himself into trouble if he criticized a supporter of the Church. Patrick knew, too, however, that what had been done was wrong, so he sent a letter to Coroticus, demanding that the Irish slaves be released. He refuses so Patrick wrote to him again, saying that Coroticus would be suspended from the Church until he did as Patrick asked.
Coroticus was so angry that he accused Patrick of being a thief and tried to get him thrown out of the Church, too! Patrick, however, knew that what he had done was right. Patrick had spent his time as a slave not brooding about getting revenge but, rather, listening to what God wanted him to do. He knew that forgiving wrongs done to us is very hard, but it is what Jesus wants his followers to do.
In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught us to say, 'Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us' (Matthew 6.12, NLT). Patrick knew that Jesus doesn't want us just to say this prayer but also, when the time comes, act on it.
Time for reflection
Let's be quiet for a moment. Think about a time when someone did something bad to you. Perhaps you were called a horrible name or had something precious stolen from you. In the quietness think about your feelings when that happened – your sense of hurt and anger.
Think, too, about what God might want you to do. Does he want you to brood on the hurt and plot revenge or does he want you to try and overcome your anger?
Let's also think about Ireland today and the conflicts there have been between the different communities of people who live there. What would Patrick have said to the people there who may still find it hard to live alongside each other?
Ideas for follow-up activities
- Find out why Patrick is frequently depicted holding a shamrock and a snake.
- Look at examples of 'Celtic' calligraphy and illustration. Copy and illustrate a verse from the famous Patrick's breastplate or another of his prayers. Some downloadable Celtic knotwork can be found at: www.clanbadge.com/tutorial.htm
- Find out what has been happening in Northern Ireland recently. Find out about the Corrymeela community and the work they are doing to reconcile the different Christian communities there (see: www.corrymeela.org)
- Take a look at some of the many websites about Patrick, though note that most of the American ones tend to focus on the Saint Patrick's Day festivities.
'Be thou my vision' (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 66, 2008 edition)