Learning to pray
Catherine Allard, Headteacher at John Keble School in Harlesden, shares the story of a recent Prayer Space installed in the school.
John Keble is a Church of England primary school in Harlesden, London. As most London schools are, it is very diverse with a large Caribbean community and an increasing Brazilian community. It has a strong Christian ethos with ‘Songs of Praise’ and a communion service each week. A range of local churches support the school.
Having listened to a talk on Prayer Spaces, I felt that we were mostly teaching children to pray by rote. The children were expected to recite prayers at key times and I believe children often do this to meet others’ expectations. Prayer spaces seemed a good way of creating a space for everyone to engage with prayer in a new way, to teach children that they can communicate with God in different ways. It is a way of demonstrating that we are all still learning to pray and there is no right way to pray.
The space was set up with five simple stations, with an adult on each one. Voiles were used to break up the space. Fifteen children came into the space at a time for half an hour. They had a chance to say sorry in sand, ask God questions, say thank you and please, pray for people by writing their names in God’s hands and just lie quietly with a prayer bear.
We opened the space for Years 2 to 6, around 300 children. The children engaged with the activities whole heartedly and so earnestly. Children opened up about their fears and concerns, engaging with the prayer space. Their responses and questions showed a maturity and openness that astounded all the adults. Examples of questions were:
- Why did you make the world?
- Do you always forgive all of us?
- Why are you always good?
- Why did Grenfell Tower happen?
- Who made you?
- Do you actually have our names on your hands?
- Why can’t you make bad people good?
- When you died, was it our fault?
Children’s prayers were very personal. They prayed for themselves, family members and the world. They asked for confidence, to stop doubting themselves and to overcome their fears. They prayed for ill family members and for family members who had died. My favourite prayer is ‘Please make the world a better place so we feel like we are in the palm of your hands.’
Staff and some local church volunteers say the experience affected them profoundly and many were moved to tears as they watched the children open up. Staff have asked if we can have regular prayer spaces, for example at Advent and Lent. We will be running a prayer space again.
If you would like support in running a prayer space in a school please get in touch with Catherine Clayton at email@example.com. You can also find out more information at www.prayerspacesinschools.com.