Today I am heading North to attend a training day for Prayer Spaces in Schools tomorrow. prayer spaces in schools are a spin off from 24/7 prayer rooms. This, from their website:
During 2008, a handful of people around the UK seemed to stumble onto the same idea at roughly the same time - to set up creative prayer rooms in primary and secondary schools, to make prayer simple and accessible to children and young people. By the end of the year, at least six Prayer Spaces in Schools had taken place.
Most of these people already had experience of prayer rooms through the 24-7 Prayer movement (http://www.24-7prayer.com), which began in Chichester in 1999, and has since spread into more than one hundred nations and most Christian denominations, giving birth to prayer and justice initiatives around the globe.
During 2009, having heard encouraging stories from students and teachers from the first six schools, a further twelve schools workers and children’s/youth workers decided to host one in their locality. Again, all the feedback seemed very positive.
Then towards the end of 2009, we began gathering some of the stories, the photos and the feedback, the good practice guidelines and policies, as well as the curriculum links that teachers were beginning to identify, and we put it all together into a simple resource pack. More than 100 of these packs went out within a few months, which suggested that people liked the ideas and were keen to explore hosting Prayer Spaces themselves.
Six months into 2010, more than fifty further Prayer Spaces in Schools had taken place around the UK. In some areas, single Prayer Space weeks have triggered conversations between schools workers and teachers/educational professionals to multiply these Prayer Spaces in Schools across whole areas or school networks (Romford, Gloucester and Oxford, for example). And as a result of these single Prayer Space weeks, some schools are planning a week into their annual rhythm, some are considering setting up permanent Prayer Spaces, and some are considering launching or reviewing their chaplaincy/pastoral roles. The response of children and young people, and of the schools, to this simple idea has been extraordinary.
“I thought the Prayer Space was fantastic. A way for pupils to write down their fears as well as hopes. It gave me as a teacher a real insight into the thoughts of my pupils and what they are dealing with outside the classroom. The comments I overheard from pupils of all years was extremely positive and some were very thought-provoking. I personally hope that the room is here long-term.!” (Maths teacher, secondary school)
It’s probably important to say that Prayer Spaces in Schools are well-rooted in the Christian practices of creative prayer - of communication with God, and of hospitality. We would emphasise hospitality, because these Prayer Spaces are places of welcome, where children and young people of all faiths (and those of no faith) can find time and space and creative ways to reflect on questions of life and meaning and spirituality. So far, they have been hosted by people from across the denominational spectrum, and as such they don’t promote a particular ‘brand’ of Christianity at the exclusion of others.
But WHY? Let me share some snippets from reports from recent prayer rooms across the country.
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I glimpse some of the anonymous stories shared with God; "happiness for my sister not to think about suicide", "that my parents don't argue", "for forgiveness", "thank you for friends, family..." and I love that we can trust each of these tales to God. I am grateful for the opportunitiy to provide a place like this, to lift some of the weight off precious shoulders.
What I cherish most is not just the in-the-moment reactions but the long-lasting seeds sown. When asked about their favourite prayer activities, students talk about the tent with it's flame-effect tea lights and the science-y electromagnetic globe. But the most popular 'activity' turns out to be the spontaneous one - during each session, Dan gathers a 'gaggle' of 13- and 14-year-old students who sit around laughing, listening and longing for the life they see in Dan.
They rollercoaster-talk of Bible stories, including the meaning of Jesus' life, death and ressurection... students ask 'true treasure' questions like; "if God's real why is there suffering?" "Are there still miracles today?" amongst others. Maybe God will one day play us a movie of our lives, and only then will we realise how these simple, creative, honest prayers were heard and answered?
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We were also challenged by the hopes that the young people wrote down in the ‘Hope Blossoms’ activity. In the week preceding our Prayer Space, a national report from ‘Ambitious Minds’ was published and an article appeared in the newspaper highlighting Norfolk as one of the worst areas in the country for young people to achieve their dreams and aspirations. I fully expected the hopes and dreams of these young people either to show low aspirations or completely unrealistic ones such as “becoming famous” or “being rich”. But this wasn’t the case – they wanted to be teachers, doctors, vets, midwives, architects, mechanics, musicians, farmers, property developers etc. Some just wanted “to be loved” or for their “family to be happy”. One wrote “to get a decent job and have a family”. The challenge for us is to figure out how we can do more to enable these young people to achieve the potential and dreams that God has given them?
At the end of each session in the Prayer Space, we asked pupils if it was what they had expected. Every time the same answer came up “No, we thought that prayer would be boring and that we would have to be silent. This was really cool” or “I didn’t know that prayer could be like this”. When asked if there was anything they didn’t like, there was silence, although a few said that they found the forgiveness section or the pictures of poverty hard. By contrast, when asked which was their favourite activity, they had lots to say, with blowing bubbles (to give your worries to God) and the fizzy forgiveness activity being clear favourites."
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So there you have it. Watch out next week if you are interested in learning more as I am sure I will be sharing. some of what I learn.
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