Advent Prayer Spaces 2015
This year’s Advent Prayer Space was accessed by Yr’s 7, 8 & 9 during their RE Lesson. During a fortnight, approximately 1,000 students participated as well as visitors from China, Year 6 classes from St Richard’s V.C Academy and St James’ Church of England Academy. The chapel was also accessed by students at break and lunch time throughout Advent.
Prayer Spaces aims to provide a reflective space for students to think about their own lives in relation to the christian faith. It is designed to enable students to explore their spirituality and to express themselves in a variety of ways. It offers an opportunity to pray to God for those who want to.
Prayer Spaces are deliberately designed to engage with thoughts and feelings, and offer a space where the emphasis is reflection rather than achievement. Consequently a breadth of activities are offered, engaging all the senses, thus appealing to almost everyone. The environment is creative, attractive and calm and elicits a calm response from most students who enter the space.
Prayer Spaces was resourced by the Chaplaincy Team and RE teaching staff from ASA:
Laura Jones Eden Team Leader
Anna Moorhouse Transition Co-ordinator & Eden Team
Mo Timbo TA & Pastor of Potter’s House Church
Barrie Cracknell Teacher and member of Jubilee Church
Anne Richards Academy Chaplain
along with additional volunteers from local churches and organisations:
Revd Rich Phillips St Aidan’s Church
Revd Anthony Oram St Aidan’s Church
Esther Billington St Aidan’s Church
Michael Rablen St Aidan’s Church
Dawn Rablen St Aidan’s Church
Revd Aian Macpherson St Columbas Church
Brian Sidwell Label of Love
Kabelo Hans Marape (KB) Label of Love
Sr Ann Buckeridge St Stephens (RC)
Sr Maria Robb St Stephens (RC)
Gerald Barley Street Angels (Princes Avenue Methodist)
Ben Baker Eden Regional Director, Yorkshire and Humber
Nicky Sentance Eden Network
Each group watched the ‘Retooning the Nativity’ video which in a fun and engaging way, removed some of the long held traditions of christmas and returned to a biblical understanding of what is most important. There were then seven prayer stations exploring the following themes:
1) Emmanuel, God with us
A reflection on the difference it makes knowing that God is with us. Students were invited to write a prayer on the prayer wall.
2) Refuge and Shelter
Short video clips on i-pods provided an opportunity for students to understand about the current refugee situation, and they could look at the routes refugees have been taking into Europe. They were reminded that Jesus was a refugee himself in his early childhood. Invitation to write a prayer for the refugees on a hand shape and surround the map of the world with prayers.
3) Jesus, the Light of the World
This was a silent space where students could think about the things which were worrying them and could write a ‘private prayer’. Students were asked to do this in silence as they reflected on what it means to them to think of Jesus as the Light of the World.
4) True or False
Following on from the ‘Retooning the Nativity’ video, students were asked to reflect on what is truth and what is a lie. They could think about this in relation to things people have said about them. They were asked to write down any negative stuff and shred it as a sign that they would choose not to believe the negative stuff as true. They could then choose a positive word about themselves to take away. There was also a true/false game to jog their memories on the video.
5) Hopes and Dreams
As students thought about the hope that is offered through the incarnation, they were also encouraged to think about their own hopes and dreams for the future and contribute to a collaborative piece of art expressing their hopes.
6) Forgiveness and Freedom
Exploring the idea of freedom and forgiveness which is at the heart of the christian gospel, students were invited to reflect on things they had done which they needed to receive forgiveness for. They also reflected on things that had hurt them. As a symbol of letting go of these things, they were able to write words or draw a picture on a mini white board and then wipe it off, reminding them that they do not have to be carrying such burdens.
7) Candle Lighting
Picking up the idea of Jesus as Light of the World, students could light a tea-light. This could represent anything they wanted it to. A simple reminder of the message of Jesus as Light, or a memorial to someone they missed, or simply a prayer.
- Majority of students were respectful and gave it a go, regardless of their religious views.
- Sessions worked most effectively when RE teacher was present. More difficult with a supply teacher.
- Many students have written prayers, rather than thoughts, addressing them specifically to God which is a development from previous prayer spaces.
- The content of the students thoughts and prayers was wide-ranging, arguably more outward looking than in the past.
- The prayer space demonstrated that some of the educative work about the refugee situation we have done across the academy has had a positive impact – students demonstrated understanding and compassion.
- It is interesting reading the student feedback. Many found the space useful to reflect on things we had not particularly asked them to reflect on, especially loss and bereavement. They especially seem to find lighting candles and remembering loved ones important.
- The presence of visitors from local churches added a helpful dynamic and increased capacity for useful conversations.
- Students enjoyed the prayer activities, but the majority did not take the time to read all the instructions, and reflection questions. They preferred to be told what to do!
- The ‘private’ prayer box enabled students to be very honest and in some cases ask for help.
- It was noticeable that students had absorbed some information about the refugee situation and appreciated being further informed through the video clips. They also demonstrated compassion towards refugees as they wrote prayers for them.
Feedback from students
- Most students appreciated the time and space to reflect and think.
- They liked the calmness and quietness of the chapel. Some students said they would have preferred to do the whole thing in complete silence and not have any music playing.
- Several commented that the groups were too big and that it would have been better in a smaller group and for longer.
- Every activity and theme was appreciated by a number of students. (The variety of approaches was important).
A selection of some of the student evaluations…..
‘The one where we needed to be silent helped me the most because it helped me think without people talking to me’.
‘I thought it was helpful, it made me deeply think about God and refugees’.
‘It was a great time to spend with God’.
‘The candle area helped me because we thought of the people who have died in Paris and your family’.
‘I enjoyed it because it was time to say goodbye to my Nana’.
‘The Advent Prayer Space was amazing’.
‘I would change the time, I feel you should be able to have longer’.
‘It helped me on how to let my feelings out’.
‘It helped me reflect on everything that is going on in the world’.
‘It was good that we had a bit of time to think and reflect’.
‘It was calm and I liked praying for others’.
‘The silence one, I liked to just sit and reflect’.
‘It made me feel more confident’.
‘I think it was very brilliant and you could talk to God’.
‘I think the prayer activities made me feel a little bit peaceful. The activities that helped me most was writing negative things, then shredding them up, because it shows that you’re worth something’.
‘I think the quiet prayer space helped me the most because I got to pray for the people I love most’.
‘Helped us give things a deeper thought and made us calm and respectful’.
‘The shredding one helped me the most because it made me wash away all the nasty words I have been called’.
‘The forgiveness helped me with my honesty’.
‘The prayer activities helped me feel better about who I am. The shredding of the nasty names helped me the most.
‘I am not actually a christian but I found it really nice and peaceful. It was amazing!’
‘Helped me get my anger out’.
‘It’s a good way to pray’
‘They helped me think about all the refugees who are homeless and how life is very precious’.
‘This helped me not to fight and get angry’.
‘Add a space where you could speak to some one who you can trust in the school and tell them your worries’.
‘It helped me because I was a bit angry and it’s cheered me up’.
Feedback from Visitors
‘Archbishop Sentamu Academy prayer space provides an excellent place and opportunity for pupils and staff to encounter the teachings of the Bible and explore their own prayer time with God. I have been encouraged that prayer responses have increasingly become directed to God since the first prayer space I was involved in and how sincere and personal many of the responses were. Prayer space serves a great purpose in its own right and could also be part of further steps for pupils to grow in their understanding and relationship with the message and person of Jesus Christ’.Ben Baker – Eden Regional Director, Yorkshire and Humber
‘The pupils are not in any way being forced into a process alien to them, but rather we are gently eliciting from them what already lies in their hearts waiting to be expressed’.
Michael Rablen – St Aidan’s Church
‘As a teacher of RE, I find this experience a valuable activity to allow each class to participate in as it provides them with an opportunity for peace and quiet. As seen by the student reflections above, the students believe that this quiet time helps them be calmer and think about those in their families, those less fortunate than themselves and situations in which they may never have been before. They learnt about the misconceptions surrounding the nativity story and they gained useful biblical knowledge in the process. Even students who don’t identify as Christians or religious believers wrote prayers of thanksgiving and lit candles for loved ones. It is a truly special experience and very much appreciated by many students and staff alike’.
Tori Murphy. Team Leader RE.