Jam, yes, “Jerusalem”, yes – prayers, no

And what a feat in modern time here upon England’s mountains green! Well, in Leicestershire and Rutland, to be exact. For that is where a brave soul from the Women’s Institute has dared to declare that prayers shouldn’t be said at WI carol concerts.

Carols are OK, she says, because it’s one thing joining in with the season’s traditions. But prayers? That’s different.

This rebel – who will surely burn in hellfire – is 63-year-old Jane Harris, who has been an atheist since the age of 11. As a regional chair, she represents nearly 5,000 members in 150 groups in her patch. According to a story in Britain’s Daily Mail, she has written in a WI newsletter, “Although most non-Christians are happy to go along with the Christmas traditions, the WI is a secular organisation and therefore we should not include prayers at these events.”

Not all WI members are of the same mind, says Harris, so assumptions should not be made about people’s beliefs.

“My friends and relatives know that I am an atheist and it is time we atheists stood up for ourselves,” she is quoted as saying. “I’ve never believed in the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas.”

Predictably – and we must expect that the Mail of all papers will look for opposition to her stance – Christians are frothing, and there are dark and ominous threats of meetings and items to be placed on agendas.

The organisation’s regional secretary, June Goodwin, tells the paper, “We will be having a meeting in the first week of January and we’ve been asked to bring this up because one or two people are a little bit upset about it. I didn’t feel it was quite appropriate for a Christmas newsletter.”

The spiteful and rather nasty Christian Institute has got in on the act (or probably been invited to put in its four penn’orth by the Mail), in the form of its spokesman, Mike Judge. “If they’re having a womeninstitute.jpgChristmas carol concert then they are clearly celebrating a Christmas festival,” quoth he, conveniently forgetting that the singing of songs and the deeper and (to believers) more meaningful and intimate act of prayer are two different things, even if they are combined into one act of worship by those who get a kick out of that sort of thing. Bacon and eggs make a breakfast, but you can enjoy one without the other.

We know from recent reports that even that arch-demon and evil atheist Richard Dawkins enjoys singing the odd hymn. “I like singing carols along with everyone else,” he says, quoted in The Times – and no doubt in several other places.

While Harris has been rather brave – in true-grit spirit – to come out to her jam-and-Jerusalem colleagues (that epithet used here with great affection), she’s rather let her side down, according to the Mail:

Mrs Harris, who lives in Leicester with her husband, apologised for any offence she may have caused.

She said: “I realise I probably shouldn’t have written it because it has rather upset a lot of people.

“People have complained, but I’ve also had messages of support. In retrospect, it was a silly thing to do.”

Not silly, dear Mrs Harris. Far from it. Sillier, perhaps, to be climbing down. But at least you managed to make some pertinent points.

2 responses to “Jam, yes, “Jerusalem”, yes – prayers, no”

  1. Cal says:

    Trying to sway the minds of the Mail was the only other silly thing Mrs Harris did save that aforementioned climbing down. CONSERVATIVE, damn it! Conservative!

  2. Stuart H. says:

    The W.I. here (Isle of Man) had a bit of a run-in with the local fundies when they tried to book a room in a ‘conference centre’ we nicknamed ‘Stepford Central’ because so many lunatic fringe religionists meet there. They were told they couldn’t use it for Tai Chi classes because Stepford had been partly funded by church organisations and Tai Chi is ‘not Christian’. Being the sensibly shod types they are, the W.I ladies predictably told them where to get off and booked other premises.
    The worrying thing is, Stepford was predominantly funded by the public purse as a Millennium project yet the public cannot stop freakish cults from, effectively, running the place and using the facilities to promulgate some ugly ideas, as well as preventing genuine community organisations from using a facility they paid for through their taxes.