An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explain and reflect on some of David's central cocnerns and ideas and show how they are of continuing relevance.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and at least one reader – adding a second reader will add variation to the presentation – plus two volunteers to come up during the assembly.
- You will also need a paper aeroplane, made deliberately slightly askew so that it will not fly straight, and a waste paper bin or similar container.
- If possible, read a bit about David in preparation, such as the entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, by David Farmer, (5th revised edition, Oxford University Press, 2011), which is the source of the information included in the assembly.
- Have available a recording of a Welsh choir singing or 'Amazing Grace' and the means to play it as the students enter and leave the assembly.
Leader Out of the 1,700 saints in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford University Press, 2011), David is one of the better-known ones.
He is the patron saint of Wales and his day is 1 March. There is a cathedral city named after him in the far west of Pembrokeshire in south Wales and his name appears on one of the finest concert halls in the UK – St David's Hall in Cardiff. When it comes to finding out about his life, however, that is more difficult.
There is at least one famous story told about each of the patron saints of the other countries of the British Isles. Patrick, it is said, cleared all the snakes out of Ireland. He also illustrated the nature of God by using a shamrock leaf. Andrew was one of the Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus, so he is mentioned several times in the New Testament and died for his faith, according to later tradition, by being crucified diagonally on an X-shaped cross, to differentiate his crucifixion from that of Jesus. George, of course, fought a dragon.
Reader No such well-known stories are attached to David. We do, however, have some snippets of information and traditions that tell us something about his life and character.
He was a sixth-century monk and bishop who seems to have preached and taught mainly in south-west Wales, although he also has links with Glastonbury, Cornwall and Brittany. Some traditions maintain that he was also made a bishop in Jerusalem.
He seems to have been very strict in terms of his religious practices. Apparently, he was nicknamed Aquaticus or, in Welsh, Dewi Ddyfrwr, meaning ‘the water drinker’, because the group of monks that he led drank neither beer nor wine, only water. The monks also followed a strict regime of heavy manual labour and study and ate mainly bread and vegetables.
In addition to carrying out many acts of mercy and compassion, David is also said to have immersed himself totally in water from time to time as part of his spiritual discipline.
He is reported to have played an important part in two synods, which are councils of the Church, held to discuss what the Church should believe and practise. The first was held at Brefi in about 560 and the other at Caerleon in about 569, both of which discussed how to suppress something called Pelagianism.
Leader Now, I think it's fairly likely that you don't know what Pelagianism is. The spellchecker on my computer certainly doesn't! If you look up the word Pelagianism in Encarta it comes up with this definition (it may be appropriate to read this as quickly as possible to make it clear that you are not expecting your listeners to understand it in one hearing):
Pelagianism: a rationalistic and naturalistic heretical doctrine concerning grace and morals, which emphasizes human free will as the decisive element in human perfectibility and minimizes or denies the need for divine grace and redemption.
Got that? No? OK. Well, here's a simpler definition. It's the belief that human beings can be good if they really want to. All that's needed is enough willpower.
Now, although Pelagianism sounds as though it's a rather ancient, obscure and possibly irrelevant idea to be thinking about right here and now today, it actually raises a very important and relevant question if you think about it. Let me show you what I mean.
Ask for two volunteers to attempt to fly the paper plane so that it lands in the bin, positioned a suitable distance away. Each person may have two attempts and can adjust the wings, flaps and so on of the plane before making a second attempt. Discuss why the plane does not fly straight. Reach the conclusion that it won't fly straight because there is a basic warp or twist in the way it is made. If you want it to fly straight, it will need to be completely remade.
Now, let's apply what we have learned about the plane to human nature. Pelagius reckoned that, although people could be affected by their upbringing, bad influences and bad habits, human nature was not inevitably bad and it could, with determination, discipline and willpower, be controlled and possibly even perfected. The plane can, if you work at it, be made to land in the place you want it to.
The Church, including (we suppose) David, decided that Pelagius was wrong – human nature needs to be completely remade. The basic warp in human nature – caused, they said, not by God but by the sin of Adam and Eve – needed to be straightened out. Christians believe that this is where the power and grace of God come in.
This doesn't mean that there is no point in bothering to struggle to do what is right (remember David's own lifestyle), but it does mean you have to be humble enough to accept that you will never succeed unaided.
What do you think?
Unfortunately, there isn't time to debate this idea here and now, but it is a fundamental view and perhaps the best way we can remember David is for each of us to try and work out for ourselves what we think about it.
Time for reflection
Following the challenge that has been given to think about this debate, there could be a short period of silent reflection. The paper plane and a fresh piece of blank paper placed on a table would provide a suitable focus.
- Hold a debate about human nature. Is it essentially bad or good? What evidence is there for either viewpoint? More particularly, discuss the biblical story of 'the Fall'. What does it mean? Look at ways in which ideas about human nature have been explored in literature, such as in Lord of the Flies.
- Do some further work on saints. Find out about some well-known and some less well-known ones, including any local to your area (there are many fascinating stories about Celtic saints in particular). Who were they and why are they remembered?
Recording of Welsh choir singing or 'Amazing Grace'