What is Prayer Spaces in Schools?
It’s a project of 24-7 Prayer which is accountable to 24-7 Prayer’s oversight team and Trustees. It’s a resource hub to support, resource and encourage the rapidly growing network of prayer space practitioners who run prayer or reflective spiritual spaces in schools. A small team manages the website, encourages the sharing of resources, supports local networks and training workshops, and keeps the prayer space community connected.
What is a prayer space?
Prayer spaces enable children and young people, whether or not they have a faith, to explore the big questions relating to their identity and the purpose, meaning and experiences of their lives. A prayer space usually pops up in a classroom or similar space for a few days. Activities encourage those who are taking part to reflect on issues such as forgiveness, injustice and thankfulness. Some schools bring classes to a prayer space for a lesson, while other schools offer the opportunity as a voluntary time and space for personal and spiritual reflection.
The website is the best place to start exploring what prayer spaces are and how they are organised – it includes an excellent section on Values and a video in which chaplains, students and staff explain how a prayer space can support spiritual life.
How have students responded to prayer spaces?
With great enthusiasm! They comment on the peace, the stillness and the chance to reflect. They sometimes surprise themselves by their reflections and the realisation of how many different ways there are to pray. They are willing to be vulnerable and honest with themselves and often children want to take their parents to the prayer space, too, so that they can share in the experience. Above all, they value the personal time and the safe emotional space that is so lacking in other areas of their lives.
Are Heads and staff happy to host a prayer space?
Feedback from heads and teachers is overwhelmingly positive. They talk about the quality of the interaction between adults and children, the opportunity for children to find a voice, the value in bringing the school community together in a shared experience and the benefit of time to be still and reflect. Some staff have noticed the difference it is making to individual pupils and several schools have benefited so much that they want to create a permanent prayer space.
The contribution to the RE and PSHE curricula (RME and Health and Wellbeing in Scotland) is valued by teachers, parents and governors of all faiths and none as activities are in line with government guidelines and meet the statutory requirement to support the spiritual, moral and social development of pupils.
Can anyone run a prayer space?
Yes, if you want to serve your local school community and contribute to the spiritual and pastoral development of students. Talking to a local support network would be a good idea if you want to know more. Check out the Getting Started page of the website and read some of the stories to get a feel for how prayer spaces work.
So how would I go about starting one?
Prayer spaces work best when they are part of the ongoing spiritual and pastoral life of a school, so if you want to start a prayer space, you need to think about any relationships that already exist – maybe your church with a local school, or you with staff or governors. To facilitate a prayer space, you will need to meet with someone in the school who has responsibility either for RE or school leadership. That’s where any connections you, or your church or youth worker have with a school comes in. When you have arranged a meeting, check out the Serving the School Community section of the Prayer Spaces website, which gives you detailed information about what to take to an initial meeting and what to talk about.
What do I do next if the school wants to go ahead?
The Prayer Spaces in Schools website is an amazing resource. It’s crammed full of the advice and support you will need as you embark on all the hard work and planning, including Choosing the Prayer Activities Recruiting and Training a Team and Publicity and Preparation. There’s a section on the exciting bit – Running your Prayer Space and finally What Next? – supporting the ongoing spiritual life of the school community with which you are in relationship through your prayer space.
Finally, don’t forget to register your prayer space. It’s easy to overlook but it’s a very important step. Not only will it keep you in touch with resources and stories from others, it will allow the organisation to track where prayer spaces are popping up around the world and to keep you connected with others, maybe in your area, who are involved in their schools. Registration is all about getting, and staying, connected in the prayer space community.
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).