Last Saturday, a mix of people from every diocese in the Church in Wales made the journey – a hop for some, a trek for others – to St Mary’s Church in Swansea to find out more about the Prayer Spaces in Schools initiative, writes Rev Rachel Bunting.
The training day was funded by St Davids Diocese and arranged by Clare Williams, and very ably led by Liz Ogborne, from PSIS (Prayer Spaces in Schools). For those of you who haven’t come across them before, PSIS is a project of 24/7 Prayer, an initiative which is well known to many, particularly in the Central Swansea Ministry Area, who held a joint 24/7 Prayer event last May.
24/7 Prayer showed that children and young people do have a strong interest in the non-material aspects of life, whether that’s spirituality, the soul, or learning more about their own sense of identity, self-worth, meaning and purpose.
For Christians, we take many parts of those insights from our relationship with God. Our self-worth comes from the fact that we know that God loves us, and created us perfectly in his image. Such knowledge means that we don’t need to rely on other people’s opinions of us for our own value. One of the ways that we grow in that knowledge is through prayer- prayer being a relationship, or a conversation, with God.
Prayer looks very different for different people, and the model of ‘hands together, eyes closed’, which is often children’s experience in schools- with good reason, hands together don’t fidget, and eyes closed don’t watch their friends- is not always helpful for student’s ongoing relationship with God. For some, the model of set prayers that we offer in churches is helpful. Some people find the familiar words comforting, and the routine of intercessions gives something to build on, and a feeling of satisfaction at the end. However, this isn’t the case for everyone- adults and children alike, and particularly not children who like to fidget and explore and communicate in their own unique ways!
This is where the Prayer Spaces in Schools initiative comes in. PSIS enables children of all faiths and none to explore the big questions in life in a safe, open environment, in ways that are creative and interactive, as well as being deeply reflective. The process doesn’t seek to evangelise to children, but purposefully allows children to make their own meaning and draw their own conclusion.
Prayer Spaces can be introduced to pupils using whatever name they would find useful in their context- if prayer is a barrier they can be renamed soul space, or reflective space. A Prayer Space is normally a classroom- but could be a cupboard, school hall, library, tent on the playing field- which is taken over for a period of a few days. Local church volunteers will transform that space into creative, interactive activities, which encourage pupils to think about issues such as forgiveness, loss, injustice, thankfulness, big questions, identity and stillness. They could be related to a seasonal theme, such as Christmas or Easter, or connect to an issue within the school, such as the transition of older pupils, bullying, or self-identity.
In some schools teachers will bring students from their classes into the Prayer Space for a period of time within their lessons, at others pupils will be invited to visit in their own time in break or lunch times. Local volunteers are on hand to guide children through the spaces. Not to answer the big questions, but to lead students carefully along their journey- to make the space and time a reflective one.
Prayer Spaces can be used within a primary or secondary school, as well as outside schools at community events or in churches. As well as being of an individual benefit to students by engaging with them on an emotional, spiritual and mental level; Prayer Spaces also tie into the RE and PSHE curriculum, so they are a useful aid for schools as well.
Prayer Spaces are designed or chosen specifically for the context they are being taken to, however they follow the same set of values that underpin the aim of the spaces. Prayer Spaces in Schools are: rooted in broadly Christian traditions of prayer; spiritual- inspiring awe and wonder; prayerful; reflective; inclusive- welcoming regardless of beliefs or cultural background; creative; accessible to a variety of learning styles; a partnership between the church and the school; professional, and safe.
While the practical set up of each prayer space is down to local volunteers, the PSIS in schools network are incredibly supportive. Their website has a whole library of suggestions for prayer spaces, as well as accompanying lesson plans and good practice guides. They also provide training for anyone thinking of running Prayer Spaces, and have a regional network with local support. In North Wales you can contact Kirsty Williams on Anglesey, who also works for the Church in Wales as a Children, Youth and Family Ministry Enabler; or in Cardiff you can contact Julia Plaut. To contact either networker email email@example.com with the subject FAO….
If you’re interested in setting up a Prayer Space in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon, you can also contact Rachel on firstname.lastname@example.org, for some pointers to get you going in the right direction!