One of the strengths of the Anglican Church is that it has never lost its awareness of the power of using ritual and the full range of our senses in worship. Ash Wednesday is a good example of this. Watching last year’s palm crosses burning to make this year’s ashes; connecting ashes with our own mortality; experiencing the sensation of ashes being scraped onto our skin; wearing physically a sign of repentance – all these things communicate more than the words we might use to “explain” them.
If you do want to try explaining, the “Busted Halo” 2 minute explorations of the liturgical year are popular particularly with secondary chaplains. They are decidedly Catholic, which may confuse some students a little, but that’s not hard to explain!
You may want to be more interactive rather than just showing a video, though, so here is a great powerpoint with everything you need for an Ash Wednesday service for primary school, courtesy of Ben Truman at St Mark’s Primary, Christchurch. Use almost as-is, or adapt some of the ideas for your own use.
Keep in mind that we have a degree of flexibility in our schools, and you can adapt traditions in new ways. At St Matthew’s Hastings, they have a long tradition of students using leaves from the enormous tree in their playground to write their thoughts/sorrows/repentance on, and these leaves are then all burned as they watch, out in the playground. The ashes are then used for Ash Wednesday.
For a fuller ceremony you could adapt and use perhaps in small chapel services, have a look at what the St Alban’s diocese does linking Shrove Tuesday straight into Ash Wednesday here.