Prayer Spaces in schools
Prayer spaces enable children and young people to explore life questions in a safe, creative and interactive way - and they have had a greater impact on the children and staff than I could ever have imagined. By Vanessa Rye
Prayer Spaces have been happening in Didcot for the last two years. After the first visit to a community school the head teacher enthusiastically promoted Prayer Spaces within the local partnership. Soon other schools were asking for Prayer Spaces in their schools.
Supporting Spiritual Life in School from Prayer Spaces In Schools on Vimeo.
The team heading up Prayer Spaces in Didcot was already leading collective worship in many of the town’s primary schools, and building on existing relationships we ran two more and a repeat visit to the first school. Altogether we have now run six Prayer Spaces in Schools. The team consists of three church ministers and a lot of volunteers from churches across Didcot.
For one of these schools the timing was crucial as a Year Six pupil had been knocked down by a car and died from his injuries, many of his classmates were deeply traumatised by his death, some having witnessed it. They found prayer space a safe, calm place where their emotions could be safely expressed without judgement or comment.
The volunteers gave gentle support and encouraged the children to ask questions and voice fears. It proved to be the point at which many children were able to make significant progress in their experience of grief and loss.
In all the schools we have seen children express things that teachers knew nothing about and many have been surprised at the range of experiences the children were having. Children expressed fears, hopes, and dreams through active prayer. Their own beliefs were accepted, they could explore thoughts and questions about life and God that they maybe hadn’t before.
They enjoyed using the play dough creatively to say thank you for the good things in their lives and loved watching the bubbles as they asked for help, courage, healing for sick family members and friends. Many wanted to stay longer and in one school the year 5/6 children came in at lunch time and did the activities for themselves.
It proved to be the point at which many children were able to make significant progress in their experience of grief and loss.
Obviously the responses varied according to the children’s ages and experiences, their range of emotional literacy and language development.
One of the most interesting responses was from children on the autistic spectrum, the calm atmosphere and particularly the bubble tube appealed to them. Children who were anxious before they came in calmed down and took part in such a way as there was no difference from other children. Even very young children could make use of the space although we managed their activity in a free flow style rather than the stricter rotation used with older children.
The adults (both staff and parents) who also experienced the spaced loved it, and in one school the teachers came in for their staff meeting time. Again and again the response was ‘We need somewhere like this all the time’.
One school has created a small space off the corner of their hall. It has the cushions and soft lighting but obviously lacks the directed activity and volunteers. It serves a slightly different purpose but provides a calm space for upset and troubled children.
In addition to running week long Prayer Spaces we use the concept within our annual summer Churches Together in Didcot outreach to families which opens on Thursdays throughout the school summer break. In the corner of our large hall where craft activities are taking place is a gazebo with, quiet music, soft lighting, cushions and two prayer activities linked to that week’s theme.
Children who have experienced Prayer Spaces in school love showing their parents what to do and others are introduced to the idea. It has proved to be a place where adults have shared their concerns and problems and asked for prayer, and have been touched by their children’s prayers.
Last summer Didcot Baptist Church ran Soul in Didcot, a three-day social action community event, followed by a free fun day in the park on the Sunday. Many of the churches in the town were involved. We set up three gazebos in which there were prayer activities based around our town, the world and individual needs. Adults and children alike came and took part in the activities. We hope to run more Prayer Spaces next year and develop our volunteers into leaders.
About 14 years ago God gave me a picture of the need for a co-ordinated way of reaching the children of Didcot. The team of ministers leading collective worship is part of that, but Prayer Spaces has had a greater impact on the children and staff than I could ever have imagined.
In many ways it is such a simple idea, it isn’t proselytising or preaching but offering the opportunity for children of all faiths and none to experience a quiet space where they can think, reflect and pray as they choose. The volunteers remind the children what each area is for but no-one is forced to do anything they don’t want to. We stand back and watch the Holy Spirit at work it is mind blowing.
It is a way of expressing God’s love for the children and the teaching staff, and by this expression of love God makes himself known.
The Revd Vanessa Rye is the Associate Minister at Didcot Baptist Church. This article was originally writter for Prayer Spaces in Schools in Oxfordshire at the end of 2014, and is republished with permission.
For more information about organising prayer spaces in schools, visit: www.prayerspacesinschools.com