Ethos Education

Gary Speed’s Minute of Silence/Applause: How and why should we respond to death?

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Learning Objective:

  • Understanding the hope of resurrection for Christians, and how this is reflected in funeral rites.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on different ways of remembering things.
  • Evaluate the respective merits of holding a minute’s silence or a minute’s applause in memory of a dead footballer.
  • Reflect upon the purpose and value of other ways of honouring the memory of those who have died.
  • Analyse Christian funeral rites to determine what they reveal about Christian belief concerning death and the afterlife.
  • Evaluate the level of comfort that Christians sometimes draw from funerals of other Christians.
  • Synthesise learning by writing brief sentences describing the purpose of each part of a typical Christian funeral service.

STARTER:

Please note, this lesson touches on extremely sensitive matters. You should be particularly aware if any of your students have suffered a recent bereavement or have any experience of a close relative or friend committing suicide.

Ask the students to work out what the following things have in common:

  • A war memorial in a town centre.
  • A history book.
  • A handkerchief with a knot tied in one corner.
  • A phone number scribbled in biro on the back of a hand.

Draw out that these are all things that are done to help people to remember something – to remember the lives of people killed in war, to remember events from the past, to remember to do something, and to remember to phone the hot boy or girl that you met at the party the previous night.

Explain that of the four, the war memorial is probably the closest one to the kind of memorial that this lesson is concerned about. Today, you are going to be thinking about death, and about the ways in which people respond to the death of loved ones. In particular, you are going to be thinking about how Christians respond to death.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Ask the students – particularly any football fans among them – whether they can recall what happened before the Swansea City vs. Aston Villa Premier League match on Sunday 27th November 2011. If necessary, remind them that on the morning of the match Gary Speed, the manager of the Welsh national side, was found dead in his home. Draw out that although a minute’s silence was announced prior to the game, during the minute some fans spontaneously broke out in applause for Gary Speed. This alternative tribute to him developed, with chants of ‘There’s only one Gary Speed’ being sung by fans.

If you are able to play online videos during the lesson, you might like to play the following footage of the minute’s applause.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/15910765.stm

Footage of the game on BBC’s Match of the Day 2 showed that while some fans joined in with the spontaneous noisy show of respect, others maintained a silence. At one point, early in the clapping, one fan can be seen turning and shaking his head to others who were clapping behind him. The managers of the two teams were similarly divided, with Aston Villa’s Alex McLeish clapping and Swansea’s Brendan Rogers remaining silent.

For more information about the reaction to Gary Speed’s death, you could refer to one or both of the following reports from the BBC Sport website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/15913189.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/15809430.stm

You might want to draw the students’ attention to the comments of Neil Taylor, who played for Swansea and was also a member of Speed’s Welsh side:

‘I don’t think it had sunk in by the time kick-off came. Playing the game is mostly what us Welsh lads wanted to do. You don’t know how to really take it but having a game was the best way of paying respects to him and play the game he loved so much.’

Ask the students whether they feel that clapping or silence is a more appropriate way of showing respect in this context? If any of the students feel that the clapping was disrespectful, ask them what difference the spontaneity made – put another way, if the stadium announcer had called for a minute of applause, would that have been more respectful than applauding during what was intended to be a minute of silence? If there is a difference of opinion as to which the students prefer, direct the discussion towards the reasons why some students prefer one over the other.

Explain that the phenomenon of a minute’s applause is a relatively new thing in British football. When George Best died in 2005, fans were encouraged to applaud rather than observe the more traditional minute’s silence in memory of the recently deceased. Since then, football has increasingly (although not exclusively) chosen to remember its deceased with applause rather than silence. The Swansea vs. Aston Villa game is possibly the first time that the former has taken place when the latter was the planned mark of respect. There have been instances when pockets of fans have deliberately not observed a minutes silence in a show of disrespect or provocation, but that is very different to what took place at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Sunday 27th November 2011.

Ask the students to discuss whether a minute’s applause or a minute’s silence is a better way to remember deceased footballers. Here are some arguments for both options, in case the students need a little prompting:

Arguments for applause

  • The noise makes the act of remembrance less vulnerable to people who choose not to observe it, therefore making it less likely to offend those who are genuinely grieving.
  • Footballers live their professional lives for the applause of a crowd, making applause a more fitting memorial than silence.
  • Applause makes the memorial a celebration of the person’s life, rather than a reflection of their death.

Arguments for silence

  • Silence is more respectful than applause.
  • Silence is more conducive to reflection, whereas applause is easier and less demanding for those taking part in the act of memorial.
  • Silence is more striking, as a football ground is never otherwise silent – even before a game, there is always a background hum of conversation, people buying burgers, etc.

Broaden the discussion to talk about other ways of marking somebody’s death. Ask the students to suggest different things that people do to mark the death of somebody significant to them, such as a family member or a close friend.

Possible suggestions:

  • Hold a funeral or memorial service.
  • Pay for a bench (or some other object) to be set up in one of the deceased person’s favourite spots.
  • Establishing a charity to work towards a cause close to the deceased person’s heart, or related to the nature of their death.
  • Planting a tree.

Ask students why they think that people do these things. What difference do actions like these make for the dead person? What difference do they make for those who are grieving for them?

The Church of England’s website includes Anglican funeral liturgy. Click on the link below for a copy:

http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/pastoral/funeral/funeral.aspx#outline

Photocopy the first page of the Outline Order for Funerals (the items numbered 1 to 12) and give it out to the class. Draw their attention to the prayers section (section 9), and ask who each of the prayers are for. Students might be surprised to notice that although the first of the four categories of prayer is ‘thanksgiving for the life of the departed’, all of the other prayers are focussed on the mourners rather than the deceased. Christians believe that once someone dies, the funeral arrangements make no difference to the deceased, or to what happens to them in death. Rather, funerals are much more about helping the living in the process of grieving and moving on.

Hand out the second page from the funeral service outline, the one which includes a selection of Bible verses for the ‘Gathering’ part of the funeral. Ask the class (either working individually or in pairs) to write a sentence for each passage identifying how they might be a source of hope for Christian mourners.

Explain to the class that many Christians report that they experience funerals of other Christians to be very joyful experiences, despite their sense of pain at losing a loved one. For example, when the entertainer Roy Castle died from cancer in the late 1990s, his wife Fiona said that she didn’t want people to be sad because Roy was now with his maker, his Lord and saviour, where he wanted to be and where she knew he would be happy. She asked the mourners not for tears, but for joy at his funeral.

Give everyone a copy of the Funeral handout, which contains a genuine first-hand account of a Christian funeral. Read it through with the class and ask for their comments: do they think that they would have found the funeral to be as comforting and positive an experience as the writer? What seems to be the most significant factors in the writer’s experience?

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to go through the outline of the funeral service and to write at least one sentence for each part of the funeral, stating what purpose it serves in the service, and whether this might be a source of hope and comfort for the mourners, particularly if the mourners are Christians.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A copy of one or more of the BBC news reports concerning the mark of respect for Gary Speed.
  • Outline of Anglican funeral service downloaded from the Internet.
  • Copies of the Funeral handout sheet.

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