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Voices Part 2 – Past and Present

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore how our words are passed on to others and the effect that our words can have.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available the YouTube video, ‘The first known recording of a human voice’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 1.14 minutes long and is available at:


  1. Ask the students to imagine what life was like before technology took over the world! The earliest known recording of a human voice was made in April 1860.

    Play the YouTube video, ‘The first known recording of a human voice’.

  2. Today, technology has developed so much that most of us can record our voices on our smartphones and have people like Siri speaking back to us.

    In the past, people had to rely on four main ways of passing on information or ‘making their voices heard’.

    - Written records left by the people themselves.
    - The words of that person, reported by others, who may in turn be relying on what other people have told them.
    - The ongoing use and reuse of a persons words and ideas, adapted for the time in which we live and by the people who use them.
    - The person’s spirit alive in people today.

  3. When we hear a voice from the past, either in recorded or written form, it can be dangerous to take it as it stands. We live in a different age from the speaker and many things need to be taken into account.

    - When were the words said?
    - What was life like then?
    - What was going on and how did people think?
    - What did the words mean at that time?

  4. All of these factors and others will affect the original meaning of the words and the way we should see them today. Ask the students if they have ever played a game of ‘Whispers’, where someone starts by telling a message to the person next to them, who passes it on the next person and so on until the ‘whisper’ reaches the end of the line. Just as in this game, words can be distorted in transmission. That includes the words of important figures of the past.

  5. So do their words matter today? Yes, of course they do. They are a means of sharing someone elses understanding and insight. Voices are like white light shining onto a prism that breaks down the light into many colours so that we can appreciate its richness and variety.

  6. Christians believe that the words of Jesus are important. His words have been passed down for 2,000 years, but how has this been done?

    - Through the words of the New Testament, recorded by those who were with Jesus and had their own ideas about him.
    - Through the traditions of the Church in its many forms, each giving us a different reflection of the truth. The New Testament is not the only record of Jesus’ words. Much of what he had to say was passed on orally. At the end of his Gospel, John reminds us that if everything Jesus said and did were written down, the books produced would fill the whole world.
    - Through the lives of outstanding Christians of our age, such as Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa. Jesus words are also ‘heard in the lives of those millions of ordinary Christians who surround us, reflecting different voices of Jesus. They hear the voice of Jesus in their prayer, worship and study of the Bible. But they also hear it in the events of the present day as they see them against the background of God as a God of love, compassion and justice.
    - Through our own lives, when we are moved to do good or feel the urge to seek justice for others, even at our own expense.

Time for reflection

A story in the Old Testament (the part of the Bible that was written before Jesus was born) tells how God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel and told him to write down the words he heard on a scroll. After Ezekiel had written the words, God told him to eat the scroll and the words! The words would be digested by Ezekiels body and become part of his life and existence.

Christians aim to have the voice of Jesus as part of them, not just outside them. This means that they want every word and action to be one that Jesus would have spoken or adopted in the situation in which they find themselves. This is a very big aim! However, Christians believe that Jesus is alive today and will help them to do this.

Publication date: February 2017   (Vol.19 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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