Christ Church: quite a classroom

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CHILDREN are taking time out from the classroom to learn about the rich history of Oxford’ s Christ Church Cathedral. Jackie Holderness explains what teachers and pupils can expect when they visit.

In January I was appointed as Christ Church Cathedral’s new Education Officer and I feel very blessed to have one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the diocese as my “classroom”.
Although it is one of the country’s smallest cathedrals, Christ Church is a vibrant centre of prayer, discovery, learning and hospitality for its college community, the city and the 2.2 million people in the diocese.

Youngsters lie down to admire the Cathedral’s ceiling. Photo: KT Bruce

Youngsters lie down to admire the Cathedral’s ceiling. Photo: KT Bruce


A boy from Arnewood School, New Milton, lights a candle. Photo: KT Bruce


Its purpose is to support all those who visit and worship there to encounter, enhance and develop a relationship with God. Christ Church has almost half a million visitors every year, many of whom are on Hogwarts or Wonderland trails, but the Cathedral remains a sacred space, where the life of Jesus Christ is remembered and celebrated day by day.
Awe and wonder

Seeing pupils respond to the Cathedral with awe and wonder, and listening to their comments and questions, has convinced me that the Cathedral provides children and young people with a unique opportunity to explore their own spirituality, and discover more about Christian belief and ministry. I wholeheartedly share, therefore, Rowan Williams’s conviction that, “Cathedrals are a perfect setting for enquiring about, engaging with and sharing the Christian faith…”

Interacting with the tradition and worship

For several years, Christ Church has offered schools tours and workshops which supplement classroom learning. Cathedrals are immensely rich learning resources, and teachers appreciate the power and importance of learning outside the classroom: handling objects; encountering art and music; listening to stories; formulating questions; and discussing key issues.

Working alongside my colleagues and a dynamic team of Education Volunteers, I hope to broaden even further the learning opportunities we can offer pupils. Through interactive and engaging experiences, we aim to help pupils learn more about the traditions and patterns of Christian worship, as they have evolved through history, and as they are developing today. We enable pupils to explore the relationship between their local church, other places of worship and their Cathedral.  At the end of each school visit, we include a short period of reflection. Because most groups may represent differing faiths or none, we attempt to ensure that every individual can take something of spiritual worth and personal value from the experience.

Themed visits

When they visit, primary pupils may dress up as medieval pilgrims to learn about Saint Frideswide, pilgrimage and monastic life or, as Tudor townsfolk, consider the upheavals of the Reformation in the history of church and state. Secondary pupils may choose from a range of options and can even “grill a canon”, posing questions about society, ethics, and issues of worship and belief. Sixth form seminars on specific topics can also be arranged.

New curriculum

We provide a planning template for cathedral visits, based upon Oxfordshire County Council’s newly-launched SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) curriculum, with its Engaging, Enquiring, Exploring, Evaluating, Reflecting and Communication framework. Through our visits, we offer cross-curricular opportunities and we are also involved in an Arts Award outreach programme, run by the County Music Service which focuses on choral singing. The Cathedral is an Arts Award centre and offers support to schools who would like to come to the Cathedral as part of the Arts Award programme.
Christ Church Cathedral has a huge amount to offer anyone who visits it, whatever their age, but we are especially keen to welcome children and young people from across the region to learn more about our wonderful cathedral, its past, present and future.

Geerthi Ahilan, the Year Three teacher at St Ebbe’s CE Primary School in Oxford, said children had been struck by the chairs in the military chapel and the war memorial as well as the activities during their Cathedral visits. She collected quotes from pupils. George, aged eight, said: “At Christ Church we got to act out the story of St Frideswide and it helped us to understand it.” Another child said: “I got to be The Bishop whose clothing was really big. I liked the clothes.”

Geerthi added: “One child remembered that there was only one female named on the war memorial and others went away and researched the names on the chairs in the military chapel. It brought out that curiosity in the children.”

Become an Education Guide

CHRIST Church’s education volunteers and guides make a real and valued difference to the work of the Cathedral.
As the number of schools visiting the Cathedral increases, we need to recruit and train more volunteers to work as Education Guides on an occasional basis (approximately once a month).
Experience of working with children is an advantage, but is not essential. The role involves being a warm, helpful Christian who enjoys interacting with young people and sharing an enthusiasm for the Cathedral.
If you would like to be involved (working with small groups, helping with resources or generally supporting educational activities) please contact Jackie Holderness on or or call 01865 286003.

This is an older post. Please note that the information may not be accurate anymore.