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Stephen – Paying the Price for Belief

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the idea that good may sometimes only be achieved by suffering.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader, five readers and some others to add their voices.

  • If possible, either print out or photocopy pictures of some people who have suffered for their beliefs, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu. The pictures could be held up during the assembly. Alternatively, create images that can be displayed on a screen. 

  • Find some chains that, when shaken, make a suitable 'clank' to suggest a prisoner's shackles. You could either do this yourself or line up one of the students to do so. You could use a microphone to amplify the sound for greater impact.

  • You will also need a candle wrapped with barbed wire (Amnesty International's symbol) displayed prominently and some matches.

  • Have available just the tune of 'Good King Wenceslas' and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. Alternatively, arrange for someone to play it.


Leader: Play the tune 'Good King Wenceslas'.

Reader 1: Stephen was chosen to be a deacon in the first years of the life of the Christian Church. This meant that he distributed food, clothing and other needed items to the poor of the community. He also spoke about why he did it and the goodness of God. What he had to say challenged people's ideas and so enraged them that:

They cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him  (Acts 7.57–58, RSV).

Jesus said:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15.13, RSV).

Leader: Jesus and Stephen were both killed because they spoke up for the weak and powerless. They challenged accepted ideas. They were a threat and so they were silenced.

There are always consequences for others of such actions. After Stephen's death, his friends were hunted down and persecuted – some also to death. Those who followed the teachings of Jesus were hunted down and killed. The same has been true for the followers of other religious leaders, such as the Prophet Mohammed (Blessed be he) and Guru Nanak.

Reader 2: Centuries later, King Wenceslas of Poland imitated Stephen's concern for the poor and needy. On Stephen's feast day, he took food, drink and warmth to a poor man who lived rough and had no shelter. First, however, he went out of his way to discover where the man lived. Today, we are likely to avoid such down-and-outs.

As far as we know, King Wenceslas did not suffer because of what he had done, but then he was the king!

When we sing the carol, do we think to do as he did and look for those in need, do what we can to meet those needs? There has always been, in all religions, a strong concern for the oppressed and those who have no one to speak for them.

Shake the chains as loudly as possible, perhaps amplifying the sound.

All voices:
All over the world, people are imprisoned by  . . .

debt  . . .

hunger  . . .

nsympathetic governments  . . .

lack of education  . . .

lack of someone to speak up for them.

Reader 3: Jesus said:

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4.18, RSV).

Half the voices: We are the captives. Who will set us free?

Other half of the voices: We will, send us.

Reader 4: There have always been those who would stand up and fight for the rights of the oppressed.

Hold up the picture or display the image of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, if using.

In the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany took a courageous stand against the Nazi regime. He was imprisoned in a concentration camp and his family was threatened. He had turned down the chance to escape to America before the war began in order to reist Nazism in Germany. He was executed a few days before the American forces arrived to liberate the prisoners from the camp he was in.

Hold up the picture or display the image of Desmond Tutu, if using.

In the 1980s in South Africa, Desmond Tutu took a courageous stand against apartheid and injustice. His life was threatened and his family threatened and put at risk.

Light the candle.

Amnesty International, which has as its symbol a lighted candle wrapped with barbed wire, is constantly fighting for justice for the oppressed.

Hold up the pictures or display the images of the remaining people who have suffered for their beliefs, if using.

There are men and women of courage who stand up and declare themselves to be against the oppressors and demand justice for those who are oppressed.

Time for reflection

Reader 5: What can we do?

We can do everything.

All big changes begin with small changes.

We can all make a difference – it really is up to us!

Begin by looking around and wherever we see people imprisoned by  . . .

debt  . . .

hunger  . . .

nsympathetic governments  . . .

lack of education  . . .

lack of someone to speak up for them  . . .

we need to each ask ourselves the following questions.

What should I do?

What can I do?

It may involve us giving time  . . .  money  . . .  It may involve accepting misunderstanding. 

We thank you for our freedom and all those who have worked to give it to us.
May we always value and treasure it.
Help us to be aware of those who do not have the freedoms that we enjoy and make us strong so we can fight for them.


'Let there be peace on earth' (Baptist Praise and Worship (Oxford University Press), 629, 1991 edition)

Publication date: August 2015   (Vol.17 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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