Prayer spaces in schools giving hope
Joanna Jones from the Kensington Area team shares some stories from chaplains of prayer spaces in schools during the pandemic.
‘Prayer is a deep human instinct’, wrote Bishop Graham in The Times newspaper at the start of the November lockdown.
Recognising this, prayer spaces (pioneered by Prayer Spaces in Schools, part of 24-7 Prayer) give children and young people, of all faiths and none, an opportunity to develop skills of personal reflection and explore prayer in an open, inclusive and safe environment. Many schools across London and beyond have hosted prayer spaces in recent years, supported by teams from local churches, and it’s become a truly international movement.
Despite the challenges faced by schools and churches in recent months, two of the Kensington Area CE secondary schools were able to host prayer spaces during Advent, giving pupils a valuable opportunity to pause, reflect and pray at the end of such a difficult year. Read on to find out more….
A prayer space with a difference! Given the challenges of setting up a ‘covid secure’ space when all areas of the school were being used to capacity, an imaginative solution was for all Year 7 and 8 pupils to receive a ‘prayer space in a bag!’ Each prayer bag contained 4 objects which were a basis for activities to help pupils reflect on the past year, look forward and bring their thoughts to God in prayer. As well as the objects, the bag contained a card with a message from Bishop Graham, and guidance for each activity, so pupils could continue to use the bags at home.
Coordinated by Joanna Jones (Kensington Area Bishop’s Schools’ Chaplain) and Tim Richards (Chaplain at Chelsea Academy), local churches Holy Trinity Brompton and St Luke’s Sydney Street offered support with preparation and funding of the 360 bags. HTB youth team prepared a short, engaging film to introduce pupils to how and why we might pray. During these times when visitors cannot easily go into schools, this was a brilliant way for the churches to support this initiative.
Chaplain Tim said:
“The prayer space bags are a fantastic resource; they enabled our students to reflect and think about the people in their lives who are truly important to them. The activities also enabled the students to pray for themselves, their loved ones and parts of the world which they care about.”
The activities encouraged the students to reflect on and, if they wished, to articulate their thoughts, hopes and fears. One pupil commented that the ‘Hope Ribbon’ helped her let go of some fears, whilst another said it made him feel really peaceful. Another shared her ‘fear of being forgotten’, which allowed the chaplain to reassure her of her value to her form and the school.
Despite the challenges of 2020, the ‘Thank You Box’ (where pupils wrote down something they were thankful for and put it in the box) was often the activity that came out as the favourite. One pupil commented that it reminded her not to take things for granted, whilst another expressed thanks for her sister who is ‘always looking out for others although she is busy herself.’
Many pupils expressed appreciation for this opportunity, and one said:
“I liked the heart activity because you could write what you felt and see it written down.”
“The prayer bag made me reflect on things I don’t normally think about.”
We hope the bags will be a reminder that we can bring anything and everything to God in prayer.
The Green School for Girls
This school set up a prayer space in the school chapel for all Year 7 pupils to experience. This offered a calm, atmospheric and peaceful space for pupils to reflect on themes such as thankfulness, hope, loss and how God has made us, and to bring their thoughts to God in prayer. Eight prayer stations offered opportunities to reflect and pray in a creative way, for example lighting a tealight and placing it around the Nativity scene to think about being light in a dark place, or writing a thankful Christmas ‘bauble’ and hanging it on the tree.
Coordinated by Joanna Jones and Alexandria Manning (Kick Chaplain at The Green School), with the support of Zoe Phillips (Youth Minister at ChristChurch W4), the prayer space ran over two days. Pupils came in small groups and had time to choose several of the activities, as well as to share some of their reflections.
Head of School Steve Burns commented:
“The Advent Reflections are an important part in our preparation for Christmas. Enabling the students time to pause, take stock, reflect and pray in the middle of a busy school day offers them a rare opportunity to contemplate what their faith means to them. The stations allow for all-important inclusivity in a multi-faith school and I am grateful for the careful thought and sensitivity that Jo, Alexandria and Zoe applied.”
Many pupils shared thoughtful and powerful responses, here are a few below:
“I liked the ‘Empty Chair’ activity because I felt empathy for everyone who has ever lost someone. It helped me feel better about my loss.”
“I liked it because it cleared my head.”
“It made me realise all the good things I have and it reminds me that I’m lucky to have what I have.”
“I liked the praying cards because you can freely pray and write about things you are worried or scared about.”
“I loved all the activities because it really made me reflect about others that are and were in my life.”
“It helped me to remember that no matter how dark the world is there will always be hope and light.”
Kick London Chaplain Alexandria reflected:
“The Prayer Space was an open and safe space, where our students could come to learn about the blessings God gives us and how we can all lean on Him in our hard times. The space allowed for students to ask questions they might not normally ask and helped deepen the relationship between faith and school. We received positive feedback from the students regarding both the peacefulness they received during the activities and how the event allowed them to process some things they hadn’t had the time and space to do.”
If you would like to find out more about running a prayer space, please visit www.prayerspacesinschools.com or contact the Revd Susy Dand.