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The Fourth Emergency Service

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider the urgent need to be helped that we all have at times.

Preparation and materials

  • Although intended for use with a large group, such as a year group, this assembly can be adapted easily to use with smaller numbers, such as a tutor group.

  • You will need a leader and three readers. 


Leader: Can anyone imagine a ‘fourth emergency service'? What could it be?

This expression was used several years ago by the AA in an advert for car breakdown cover packages, so some students may mention this.

Suppose we were having a competition to decide who could really call themselves the fourth emergency service, who might enter – apart from the AA?

The students may like to work on answering this question either in small groups or full plenary. Possible answers are likely to include Samaritans, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Coastguard Service and Alcoholics Anonymous. Ask questions to prompt these answers if the students don't identify them.

Reader 1:
Some people would say that their best friend is their fourth emergency service, because they're always there for them.

Reader 2: Some people could say this about their mum and/or dad, that they're their fourth emergency service.

Reader 3: Some people would say this about God, because they feel God is always there for them.

Reader 1: Well, if I had a car and it broke down on a lonely road at night, I'd rather ring the AA than talk to God!

Reader 2: If I had a heart attack, I'd rather dial 999 for an ambulance!

Reader 1: It's not exactly like you can ring God for help!

Reader 3: Lots of people would say that God is the last emergency service when the others can't help you.

Leader: It's a bit like the old joke about the person who fell off the top of a cliff. Halfway down, he was caught on the branch of a tree. Swinging from this branch, hundreds of metres above the ground, he shouted loudly, 'Is anybody there?' He heard a voice that seemed to come from the clouds reply, 'Let go, my child, and the everlasting arms will catch you.' The person hanging from the branch thought for a minute, then said, 'Is anybody else there?'

Reader 3: If we were on an aeroplane and the captain said on the PA system, 'Brace yourselves - the plane is going to crash in five minutes', a lot of people would suddenly find that they had the ability to pray, even if, sitting here this morning, they are perfectly sure they would never do it. That's what happened on the planes involved in the attack on the twin towers on 11 September 2001.

Reader 1: It's hard to know what we'd do until we are actually in that situation.

Reader 2: Here's a Jewish poem about God as the one who reaches out to people in their worst emergencies.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord: you show me everything I know about goodness'  . . .
I keep the Lord always in my mind
Because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved  . . .
For you do not give me up to destruction  . . .
But you show me the path of life.
(Adapted from Psalm 16)

Time for reflection

Living God,
Teach us to pray, not just for our needs but also for those of others.
Strengthen us to give practical help to those who find themselves in an emergency situation and listen to those who need to talk about it afterwards.
Travel with us on the path of life.

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