Prayer spaces in schools – making prayer accessible
Anna Walker asked three people who delivered prayer spaces in schools during the Autumn term about the opportunities and impact they present in terms of helping young people explore spirituality and make prayer accessibly.
The Revd Margaret McPhee, Rector of Horsford, Felthorpe and Hevingham, was asked by the Heads of School from Horsford Church of England Primary School to arrange a prayer space with the aim to give the children a different experience of prayer and link it to the theme of ‘Trust’ which they’d been exploring in Collective Worship.
“Having never done anything like this for before, I was guided to some ideas and resources through the Diocesan Resource Centre,” says Margaret. “Five prayer stations were planned together with a central ‘gathering’ space to instil a calmness and focus at the start and finish of the experience. Each class had 45 minutes in the space rotating around the stations.
“There was excitement, laughter and a great deal of thoughtfulness from the children. The space was identical for all children, however, for the younger children there was a volunteer working with the children at each station whereas the older children managed themselves.”
Reflecting on the experience, Miss Chenery, a year 3/4 teacher said: “By taking part in the prayer space activities the children were encouraged to reflect on their personal values and consider the way they interact with others. The experience was very positive and allowed the children to work together in groups to discuss and show their understanding of our current value of ‘Trust’.”
Of her first school prayer space experience, Margaret concludes: “The children have often referred to the prayer spaces when I’ve seen them around the school. It was a positive catalyst for developing my relationship with all the staff on the day and since. This included the school approaching me for an Advent experience in church for years 3 and 4 in addition to our normal church involvement at Christmas.”
In North Norfolk, representatives of the Holt and Repps Deanery, who had put together a series of prayer space activities on the theme of the Lord’s Prayer, were invited to spend one day in each of the Pilgrim Federation Schools and work with the children to help them gain a deeper understanding of the that prayer. Constance Tyce, Lay Deanery Synod Representative for Repps, explains:
“The schools wanted to continue developing the children’s spirituality by providing opportunities for them to express their own beliefs, ideas and values, feelings and experiences in a creative way. The Lord’s Prayer was already used regularly in the schools; however, it was felt that children would benefit from the opportunity to explore the meaning of the words further.
“The days were a great success. The children were able to choose their own activities and were fully engaged, developing confidence throughout the day about expressing their beliefs and feelings. They commented on how much they had enjoyed the day and learnt about the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. One child said “it was exciting and felt different from normal school lessons!” Another said, “when I touched the plasma ball I felt closer to God”.
“Staff reported that the children’s learning was enhanced and felt the adults had skilfully enabled them to explore their ideas and beliefs in more depth. They also observed the importance of enabling children time to reflect within the busy school day.
“Hosting a prayer space event can provide many opportunities for whole community involvement,” enthuses Constance. “We were delighted to have the support of the staff, governors and members of the local churches. At the end of the day parents were invited into the schools and the children were able to explain the various activities. We are pleased to say that we have already been invited back next year!”
Building on their existing relationships at Long Stratton High School, Integrate Youth for Christ were invited to run a Christmas prayer space. Having run two prayer spaces previously, they were struck by the difference in the welcome.
Steph Richardson, Integrate YFC’s Director says: “There was a buzz from staff who had experienced the last prayer space. One of the receptionists said that, having remembered and enjoyed the previous one, she was looking forward to seeing what we would do this time.
“Many of the young people also arrived with a different expectation. In the past pupils have expected to sit in silence, but due to prayer spaces run in local primary schools and experiencing or hearing about our previous spaces, there was an eager expectation of prayer as something different. All the pupils were able to explore spirituality at some level and many found it a moving experience or expressed a sense of peace.”
The wonderful thing about prayer spaces is the legacy they leave behind both short term and long term; from the tangible experience and immediate responses made by the pupils to the cumulative effects leading to greater connections and engagement within the school.
Steph continues: “The long term impact became apparent as the week went on. In addition to lesson time for years 7-9, we open at lunchtimes for those that aren’t timetabled to visit and for those that wish to come again. Usually, the first lunchtime only has a small number of visitors but this year, from the first day we attracted a steady number, growing to a crowd of over 100 by the end of the week! Older years came as a result of positive memories and one group of year 10 boys brought their friend as ‘he wasn’t at the school the last time you came, so we wanted to show him what it was all about’!
“We also run a popular lunchtime club at the school and most of the young people who come visited the prayer space, giving us the opportunity to have deeper conversations and build on relationships. Running prayer spaces helps further our regular work with the school, but also widens our impact, so that the subject of prayer becomes accessible to the whole school, even the staff, most of whom either came and looked at the space or took part themselves. It also builds on the trust that the school have in us, allowing us to introduce other experiences, such as the Gsus Live Trailer or touring schools’ teams.”
If you would like to know more about prayer spaces or explore materials further, visit the link below, or contact Anna Walker by email or phone 01603 882374.
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