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Backwards and Forwards

The year ahead

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider our aims for the coming year.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available an image of Janus and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at:
  • Optional: during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, you may wish to provide more background about the Greenbelt Festival, and Pip Wilson in particular. Further information is available at: 
  • In the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, Jesus’ words are found in Matthew 5.13-16.


  1. January derives its name from the Roman god Janus. He was the god of transitions, so his head was often portrayed on gates and doorways. The head was unusual in that it had two faces, one facing backwards, the other forwards.

    Display the image of Janus.

    Janus is appropriate for January. We can look back to the recent past of 2023 and look forward to 2024.

  2. Ask the students, ‘What do you remember about 2023?’ Ask them to think about it in terms of both the world and personally.

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Encourage a mixture of newsworthy events and more personal anecdotes.

  3. Some examples of newsworthy events might be rising energy prices, hikes in the cost of living, the prevalence of food banks, the war in Ukraine, turmoil in the Middle East, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and a year without Covid. Quite a mess in many ways.

  4. Ask the students, ‘What about 2024? Can you think of any significant events that are due to take place?’

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Point out that, alongside the events already mentioned, most of which are likely to continue, many significant events are due to take place during the coming year. There will be the US presidential election and possibly a UK general election. On a lighter note, there will be the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Paris, the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden, and the release of new Lord of the Rings and Marvel films. It’s looking to be a full and busy year.

    So, what part might we be able to play in it?

Time for reflection

One event that’s scheduled for 2024 is the Greenbelt Festival, an annual arts event that has been running for more than 50 years. Pip Wilson was one of its trustees, and sadly passed away in September 2023.

During his life, Pip did a lot of work with young people in difficult situations, such as young offenders and youngsters caught up in gang life. He was particularly concerned that young people were aware of their value. Pip pointed out that no one has, or ever will have, the same experience of our lives. As he put it, we are each a ‘collection of specialness’ that has never been put together before. We are unique, and that makes us valuable.

Pause to allow time for thought.

Jesus used two images to say something similar. He described his followers as being like salt and light.

Salt brings out flavour when it is added to meat and vegetables. It’s also a valuable preservative. So, each of us can bring out the best in other people, listening to them, praising their good points, acting on their suggestions, encouraging them and checking that all is going well with them.

Light is clear and open. It enables us to see through the darkness. So, through our integrity, our honesty and speaking the truth, we can clarify what is happening in an increasingly complex world. We can highlight injustice, inequality and prejudice, and people will know that they can rely on us and trust us.

So, what part will each of us play in this new year that’s stretched out in front of us?

Most of us will not be taking part in any of the events mentioned earlier, but now is the time to plan to make our own mark, great or small. Today, we have one more year of life experience than we had a year ago. We are more mature, stronger, more gifted and more educated. Our potential is greater than it was 12 months ago. So, what part do we plan to play in the year 2024?

While we’re thinking about that, here’s a song about uniqueness.


‘ME!’ by Taylor Swift, available at: (3.14 minutes long)

Extension activity

Invite the students to close their eyes and stay silent for one minute.

- During the first 30 seconds, invite the students to identify three personality features or experiences that are unique to them.
- During the remaining 30 seconds, invite the students to project how they can use these to be like salt and light in their community.

Publication date: January 2024   (Vol.26 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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