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Living Secret Lives

What is happening in other people’s lives?

by Brian Radcliffe (revised, originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider our own sensitivity as to what might be happening in the lives of others.

Preparation and materials

  • None required.


  1. Explain that it is a sad, yet often interesting, task to clear a house belonging to an elderly person who has recently died, because you never know what you might unearth.

  2. Ask the students to imagine opening a box and discovering some old documents. One set of documents consists of detailed drawings of military pennants and insignia, obviously for the battalions of a foreign army. Another set is a series of notes on the movements of troops. Finally, there’s an official letter on headed notepaper, signed by the Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces, General Sir Harold Franklyn.

  3. A man called Richard Sluman had this very experience as he was sorting through his father’s belongings a few days after his funeral. Mr Sluman Senior had been a quietly spoken country vicar who was greatly respected in the village where he’d served for many years. Yet, judging by the evidence in the box, he’d obviously lived a second, secret life.

  4. After doing some research, Richard discovered that, during the Second World War, his father had been part of the largest resistance movement in Western Europe. This movement had been set up in the British Isles to be an underground resistance movement in the event of a German invasion. Although the movement had never had to be put into active service, it was highly organized, with ‘special units’ trained in combat and demolition, and a sophisticated network of intelligence-gathering ‘special duties’ groups. Its members were largely older members of the community who had reason to travel freely around the countryside. Reverend Sluman was a coordinator for such a ‘special duties’ group.

  5. A fictional example of someone who has a secret life must be Clark Kent. Most of the time, he is a mild-mannered, bespectacled reporter who is one of the crowd. That is, until the word goes out that some catastrophe has happened, or that someone needs rescuing or that the world itself is in danger. Then, Clark Kent turns into Superman, the saviour of all things good and wholesome. When the problem has been solved, he reverts to his persona of Clark Kent and no one is any the wiser.

  6. Express that there may well be some secret lives being lived out in school.

    – There may be people who are quietly successful, who shy away from publicity and are naturally self-effacing. Their achievements may not be in the obvious arenas of sport and performance, yet they are of the highest standard. (You may wish to name a particular student here.)
    – There may be people who are quietly generous, the students who give their time and money to support special causes. Often, all they’ll receive is a word of thanks from those they help. Sometimes, they may not even get that. (You may wish to name a particular student here.)
    – There may be people who are, without mentioning it to anyone, secretly living lives of difficulty, maybe even suffering. This could be because of a medical condition that causes them pain or disability, or maybe they are carers, looking after their parents or siblings in the absence of other support.

    And all this happens in secret.

  7. One of the skills that Jesus possessed was picking out individuals from the crowd. He identified the secret concerns of many who came to listen to him, and gave them healing and encouragement. He praised the poor woman who secretly gave the last of her money to the temple offering. He also identified the traitor among his band of followers – that’s a very useful skill!

  8. Some of us may know of other people’s secret lives. We also know why these lives are kept secret. So, what might be an appropriate way to respond?

    Even if someone wishes to stay out of the spotlight, it’s always encouraging to receive private congratulations. A simple ‘thank you’ to those who are generous can also be appropriate. With those who are suffering or under the stress of caring, it may be necessary to be more tactful. A quiet offer of support at the right moment, or a sign of empathy, could be all that’s needed.

Time for reflection

Spend a moment considering the following thoughts. You may wish to turn them into a prayer.

Let’s be thankful for those who recognize what we do and offer praise, support and thanks.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Let’s be sorry for our own insensitivity to what might be happening in lives around us.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Let’s plan to take some action that arises out of today’s assembly. It’s likely to consist of saying the right words at the right time.

Pause to allow time for thought.


‘He who would valiant be’ (Come and Praise, 44)

Optional: you may wish to play the theme tune to the film The Dam Busters. It is 1.54 minutes long and is available at:

Optional: you may wish to play the music ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations by Elgar. ‘Nimrod’ is always played at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday. A version is available at: (4.20 minutes long)

Publication date: June 2018   (Vol.20 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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