This was the fourth Prayer Space week that we've hosted in Frances Bardsley School for Girls... and about the twelfth we've hosted so far in Havering schools. And I'm amazed at the stories that have come out from every single one.
I think the participation is the thing that amazes and puzzles me most. It shouldn't but it does. When a class of mischievous year 10s who have been mostly muttering and giggling throughout our pre-amble presentation then goes and engages fully with the prayer stations it always amazes and puzzles me. And this week at Frances Bardsley was no exception.
We had some difficulties at the start. The long-planned timetable of classes coming to the room for their R.E. lessons got cancelled at the last minute - we're still not entirely sure why - which left us hosting just three classes, lots of 'free periods', and then open-to-all during breaks and lunchtimes.
But what was (possibly?) meant for bad turned out good, like rogue/rough threads woven into a tapestry. During almost every 'free period' we had sixth form students coming in to talk and pray about hopes and fears and faith and exams, etc.
Like A, who came back day after day, mainly to talk with one of our team, Emma. At the end of the week she told Emma that for the first time, she'd woken up feeling that she could be herself, that she didn't have to pretend. She attributed this *entirely* to her experiences in the Prayer Space, and she asked if she could visit Emma's church that Sunday. (She did, by the way.) Here's the feedback she wrote for us;
And like C, who sat for a long time at the Forgiveness Zone (see below), in front of the bowl of water after the MP3 track had ended, with tears in her eyes. "It's taken me three years to let go of that hurt," she whispered to me.
Like M, who talked about being burgled while she and her family were still in the house, and the fear that she wrestles with daily as a result of this traumatic experience. And like S, who talked openly about her paralysingly low self-esteem, and some of what had caused this. It was a privilege for the team to listen to these stories, to pray simple prayers, and speak words of encouragement and blessing into these precious lives.
During the short feedback after a lesson on Friday morning, one girl explained that as she'd "done the stones activity" it made her think about the things she'd been saying - bad-mouthing, gossiping - about her friends. She went on to tell us (and the whole class, don't forget) that she put the MP3 player down straight away and went to speak with her friends in the room, apologising to them. "There's a couple more I need to apologise to," she said.
Earlier in the week, I watched another girl at the Forgiveness stones activity, with tears dripping down her cheeks, gripping her stone, determined to begin to 'let go' of whatever it was in her life that had damaged her, seemingly oblivious to her friends crowded around her who were mostly messing around. These are very special moments, where God draws close and whispers words of grace and healing.
Carla Taylor, who leads Prayer Spaces in Schools teams into schools in Thurrock told me last week about a teacher who kept ducking in and out of the classroom/Prayer Space, clearly trying not to give in to the tears that wanted to come. "You're asking my students to do things that I don't think I'm prepared to do?"
Why do we do this stuff? To make a space of welcome, where hearts and souls can connect with, and receive from, Abba Father, the God who made us and who cares deeply for us.
Here's a few more pics of the Prayer Space, and of some of the prayers...
Prayers for Japan...
Prayers of hope. "I'm an atheist, but..."
And prayers of intention. I love this one... "I'm ready!"
For more information, for LOTS more stories, for news about workshops and seminars (and for details on how we might be able to host a workshop for teachers, youth and schools workers where you are), for free resources, etc. have a look at the Prayer Spaces in Schools website.