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'God save the Queen!' The British national anthem

To reflect upon the significance of the British national anthem at a time of jubilee.

by The Revd Alan M. Barker

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To reflect upon the significance of the British national anthem at a time of jubilee.

Preparation and materials

  • An instrumental recording of the National Anthem.
  • The words of the anthem and alternative versions on PowerPoint or a whiteboard (see sections 2, 4, 6).
  • Whiteboard or flipchart (see section 5).

Assembly

  1. Play the opening bars of the National Anthem. This music will often be heard during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and (hopefully, during medal ceremonies!) at the forthcoming Olympic Games.

    Identify the music as the British national anthem – the national anthem of the UK (England,Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and of some British territories.

    Invite the school community to consider its significance. The anthem is played on civic occasions, and at events attended by members of the royal family. It’s played as an expression of respect and unity and it’s customary for those present to stand.
  2. Display the words of the anthem.

          God save our gracious Queen!
          Long live our noble Queen!
          God save the Queen!
          Send her victorious,
          Happy and glorious,
          Long to reign over us,
          God save the Queen.

          Thy choicest gifts in store
          On her be pleased to pour,
          Long may she reign.
          May she defend our laws,
          And give us ever cause,
          To sing with heart and voice,
          God save the Queen!

    These lines express religious faith and national allegiance. When the Queen was crowned in 1953 she solemnly promised to serve both God and her people. At the moment of her coronation the congregation and crowds shouted out, ‘God save the Queen.’
  3. Invite the school community to consider how they feel when singing or listening to the words of the National Anthem. (Some will have a sense of pride and patriotism. Others may not be entirely at ease with the words, finding them out of keeping with secular beliefs and expectations.)

    Comment that a range of responses might naturally be expected. These reflect a wider debate and changing attitudes to the monarchy and the structures of society.
  4. The National Anthem was composed by Thomas Augustine Arne (1710–78) and it is thought that it was first sung in 1745. It became known as the National Anthem at the start of the nineteenth century.

    Various verses have been used. Only two are sung today. Others would be deemed quite unsuitable!

    A number of attempts have been made to compose alternative verses. For instance, in 1919 (following the First World War) these lines were thought appropriate:

          Of many a race and birth,
          From utmost ends of earth,
          God save us all!
          Bid strife and hatred cease,
          Bid hope and joy increase,
          Spread universal peace,
          God save us all!
  5. Invite the school community to think of composing an additional verse to the National Anthem. What lasting values and hopes would they wish to express? (List suggestions.)

    What personal beliefs do these values express? How do they reflect respect and religious values?
  6. The following alternative might be displayed for comment:

          One in community,
          Bound in society,
          We shall be strong!
          Peace and prosperity,
          Justice and liberty,
          Hope, happiness, humanity,
          This is our song!

Time for reflection

(Quietly play an instrumental version of the National Anthem.)

Invite everyone to think quietly about the responsibilities undertaken by the royal family and the values and beliefs that bind different people together.

Music

‘O God beyond all praising’ (Hymns Old and New, 363 (Kevin Mayhew)): this is a new hymn, sung to the tune ‘Thaxted’, by Gustav Holst (‘I vow to thee, my country’).

Play the National Anthem.

Publication date: June 2012   (Vol.14 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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