A few months ago, I was given five minutes in a church service to talk about education. What should I talk about? Ofsted was behaving badly at the time as the British values agenda kicked in. I was writing about the surge in mental health problems in children. I was pondering how to address secular creep in the curriculum. There are so many aspects to my work that it seemed hard to choose just one. So here’s what I did.
I asked everyone to raise one hand. Then I asked everyone who had a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or neighbour in full time education to put their hand down. A forest of raised hands disappeared. Next, I asked everyone who had someone in their family, or a neighbour, or who themselves worked in education, to lower their hand. Lots more hands went down. By the time I got to anyone who lived near a school or who knew the name of a local school, there were no hands left. It demonstrated that nobody is more than three steps from an education connection. Then I introduced the work of Pray for Schools.
The concept, like all great ideas, is blindingly simple – every school in the UK a prayed-for school. I had just proved that everyone could connect with a school, so it was logical to conclude that every school could be prayed for and that churches have a vital role in mobilising people to do so. After all, as Richard Longenecker reminds us, ‘Prayer is the natural atmosphere of God’s people’.
Schools are in the frontline battle for the hearts and minds of our children and young people. Just pause for a moment and visualise your local school or college cocooned in a prayer wrapper. Then visualise a bigger prayer wrapper encompassing our whole country. Think what it might mean for the wellbeing of our children, our teenagers, our families and ultimately our society.
So what does Pray for Schools do? There are key dates across each school year around which events can be centred. These include Back to School with God at the start of the academic year; a global Pray Day for Schools in November, and a Pray for Schools fortnight in May. Resources are provided for all of these events and each group or church can decide where and when to pray and what resources are best to use in their own context. The website also offers a collection of many other resources to help you as you pray. These include prayer ideas and outlines, suggested letters and downloadable publicity, a video demonstrating a prayer walk and a leaflet outlining a Schools’ Ambassador project in Bristol.
Abraham Lincoln once said that he had been driven many times to his knees by the overwhelming conviction that he had absolutely no other place to go. And that’s why I chose to use those precious five minutes to talk about prayer – it’s the place where everyone can go. Groups or individuals can pray at any time, whether or not they are able to organise or promote an event. Everyone can encourage their church to pray for, and support, their local schools.
Pray for Schools asks those who pray or who organise events to let them know, so that they can offer support and encouragement – there’s an online form you can use to make contact. Imagine an interactive map of the UK light up as town after town, city after city, show that its schools are prayed-for schools. Then check out the website, talk to your church leaders, register with Pray for Schools, and start praying, trusting Christ’s promise that ‘whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24).