Christian Youth Work Awards 2014









Last night one of the spiritual development resources that we’ve created for our work with Colchester schools, Sanctum, won the Best Youth Work Resource award at the Christian Youth Work Awards 2014. Our thanks to the person who nominated us (you know who you are!) to the Youth Work Awards team for selecting Sanctum as the winner and to Youthwork Magazine for sponsoring this category.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to be there to receive it as we were setting up Sanctum in a local school on the same Friday evening in preparation for a Monday morning start. Here’s what it looks like in action:


To be honest we’re a bit overwhelmed with the whole awards thing! There are so many great youth and schools work resources out there and what we’ve developed here since our first Sanctum in 2008 is also reflected in similar prayer space projects in schools up and down the country, and now internationally. Also, Sanctum isn’t a youth work resource in the traditional sense of something you can buy or download as a package. Instead we’ve been totally delighted to have shared the resources ideas and activities that make up Sanctum through the Prayer Spaces in Schools initiative and web site, as well as other material that I’ve written and contributed.

So if you’re specifically interested in Sanctum, our story here in Colchester, what we’ve developed, how we work with schools… that sort of stuff, do get in touch with me. But for a bigger picture and a wealth of downloadable resources, policies, good practice guides and inspiring stories about how prayer spaces like Sanctum work in schools, do go to the Prayer Spaces in Schools web site. If this award helps to raise the profile of prayer or reflective spaces in schools then for us that’s definitely a winner.

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Prayer Spaces in Primary Schools – Colchester training

Saturday 8th November
9am to 1pm

Since 2008 over 1000 prayer spaces have been run in primary schools, secondary school and colleges around the country. This training morning is for anyone interested in running a prayer space and will have a specific focus on primary schools.

You’ll learn about what prayer spaces are and how they work, with stories and examples from local people who have already run prayer spaces. There will be time to explore a range of prayer space activities suitable for primary schools with training on the practical steps required to set up and run an engaging, safe and appropriate prayer space in a primary school setting.

The day will be led by Tim Abbott, Director of CYO and part of the Prayer Spaces in Schools national team with lots of other input from those who have already run prayer spaces in local primary schools.

Venue: Elim Church, Clematis Way, Colchester, CO4 3PY
Cost: Suggested donation of £10

If you wish to attend please let us know in advance by emailing Susan Sydenham who heads up our Primary Schools Network: susan [at]

CYO Logo_landscape_s



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Crisis in Iraq – five things you can ACTUALLY do to help

The current situation in northers Iraq right now seems to be completely without hope. We despair and can be paralysed to inaction by the awful events of thousands of miles away presented on screens inches from our faces. Liking a post or sharing a link are really infinitesimally small acts in contrast to the enormity of the genocide taking place.

But there are things we can do. In Crisis in Iraq – five things you can ACTUALLY do to help, Martin Saunders makes a compelling case and provides all the links you need to do something. Before posting this, I have.

We may not be there helping, but we can send money to support those who are.
We may not be able to speak to governments, but together we have a voice.
If you’re going to share something, share something that invokes an action that others can also take.
Even if you’re not someone who prays, there are still four things you can do that will make a difference.

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Pop-up labyrinth on the lawn

Last weekend we helped to run an inter-church youth event focussing on prayer. As part of this we set up several prayer activities in the hall and the church but also created a kind of ‘pop-up’ Labyrinth for a small lawn in front of the vicarage. Here is what it looked like.


We divided the Lord’s Prayer into six sections and set about designing a Labyrinth route that would fit the space, with overall dimensions of 18m x 6m. Being outdoors we adopted a path width of 1m which is wide by normal Labyrinth standards but we had the space and didn’t want people to feel crowded as they passed one another. The law of unintended consequences meant that in the end this turned out to be a good thing.

Barrier tape (70mm wide) was used to mark out the pathways, pinned to the lawn using gardening ground spikes, normally used for pinning down ground cover sheeting. These are made of plastic and, the ground being slightly drier than expected, we found we needed to pre-bore the hole with a tapered pair of scissors that we were using to cut the tape, otherwise the pegs bent.

Scripts for each of the six reflective pauses were printed and laminated and attached to 1.5m garden stakes using big bulldog clips. All of this took two of us just 45 minutes to set up.


We were amazed at how people took to the Labyrinth. Whilst we had, perhaps naively, expected that people would go round individually, being young people they wanted to go round with their friends so groups of 3 or 4 (maximum) became the norm. Thankfully, having 1m wide pathways meant that there was enough space for groups walking round. Being in a group meant that they discussed the scripts and the questions raised at each stop before moving on. As seems to be the way with Labyrinths, there’s a bit of a rush to the first pause but gradually people slow down the further along they go.

Afterwards it took about 10 minutes to clear it all away. We binned the used tape but kept everything else. Already we’re getting requests to set it up again for other church and worship events.

If you want to have a go, the design and scripts are here CYO Labyrinth script.

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What if Learning

What would a distinctively Christian approach to teaching and learning look like? Not in the sense of an alternative that sets itself apart from what is already good in education, but in considering how a Christian ethos informs our understanding of people and values and then working out how that might work out in practice.

What if Learning is full of insightful reflection and real world examples of how a Christian ethos might inform learning.
What if students learnt about serving through studying transport?
What if growing cress helped students see the interconnectedness of the world?
What if learning about graphing led to delighting others?

You get the idea!

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Spiritual Capital and Progressive Localism

In Spiritual capital and progressive localism Chris Baker (writing for online magazine Public Spirit) outlines a vision of society that accepts the full religious and secular diversity of Britain today and is able to embrace the ‘spiritual capital’ of both religious and secular organisations.

Quoting the philosopher Jürgen Habermas he suggests:

… that we have moved from a secular public sphere to a postsecular one; namely,
‘a …. self-understanding of society as whole in which the vigorous continuation of religion in a continually secularizing environment must be reckoned with’.
We no longer live in a tidy and ideologically pure public sphere where only the secular counts as ‘public’ and religion is allowed to function only in the ‘private’.


This identifying of the public sphere as ‘post secular’ seems to resonate with my experience and understanding of the way the outward work of the  church and its organisations is making an increasing contribution to public life. Apart from a vociferous minority, many people and organisations (including, in my field, schools) seem comfortable and  welcoming of the involvement of the church as partners in a plurality of provision that shares a common aim, that of addressing social issues together. This is borne out in the well deserved public recognition of larger Christian organisations working to serve their locality, such as The Message Trust in Manchester and XLP in South London, as well as the lesser known but just as vital services offered in towns and cities across the nation like the primary healthcare centre, Beacon House, in my own town of Colchester. To this I would also add the thousands of Christians who contribute appropriately and responsibly to the pastoral support, spiritual development and other needs of young people and their schools.

Baker elaborates on the post-secular public square, the importance of spiritual capital and the implications for a progressive localism agenda and I recommend reading the whole article. His conclusion sets out a vision, and perhaps challenge, for the church as one of the contributors towards the goal of flourishing communities:

More informal and fluid spaces in the postsecular public space are also opening up, which means that churches and other faith communities are uniquely placed to play a more explicit and creative role as political powerbrokers on the ground. The ‘cultured despisers of religion’ in certain media and academic circles will continue to complain, but the reality is that increasing numbers of leaders and citizens are more open than ever to allowing space for progressive (i.e. outward–looking) religion to deploy its wisdom, experience and resources. Not only in leading debates, but also acting as political hubs for emergent networks and affinity groups committed to creating flourishing localities.


If I may be allowed a momentary religious exclamation, “Amen to that.”

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Voices of faith and belief in schools (guidance)

NATRE visitors

NATRE, has released an update to its guidance for religious visitors to schools which can be downloaded here.

As an organisation working with schools in the Colchester area we adopt this guidance as a standard for the way we work with the schools we serve. It recognises both the significant benefit that visitors representing faith or belief groups (whether religious or not) can bring to schools as well as the responsibility of these groups to work in an educational and inclusive way. The guidance can be summarised by this question:

If a member of another religion or belief visited my child’s school and contributed in the same way as I have done, would I, as a parent, be happy with the education given?

The guidance covers:

  • Principles and good practice
  • Code of Conduct
  • Schools’ responsibilities
  • The three main contexts where visitors might contribute to school life
  • The basics of communicating effectively with children and young people

It concludes:

Much wonderful RE, and many inspiring acts of collective worship or assemblies, result from the visit of a person willing to share his or her faith or belief. From the point of view of NATRE, schools are encouraged to welcome these visitors whenever possible, and communities of faith and belief are encouraged to contribute to the curriculum and collective worship some of the treasures of their living beliefs.

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The 7 Psychological Functions of Art

Blog find of the day was Maria Popova’s review of “Art as Therapy” by philosopher Alain DeBotton and historian John Armstrong.

In it they propose that Art is more than just an aesthetic indulgence but is a tool that helps  fulfil seven core psychological functions:

  • Remembering
  • Hope
  • Sorrow
  • Rebalancing
  • Self understanding
  • Growth
  • Appreciation


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Taking Spirituality Seriously

DSC_0731I’ve recently started following the RSA blog and in particular some excellent thinking and writing on the subject of spirituality by Jonathan Rowson.

In Taking Spirituality Seriously he builds on an earlier reflection on Post-Religious Britain: The Faith of the Faithless, a study by the think tank Theos, that identified the vast majority of British people (70%) to be be neither strictly religious nor strictly non-religious. The survey showed that “the proportion of people who are consistently non-religious, i.e. who don’t believe in God, never attend a place of worship, call themselves non-religious, and don’t believe life after death, the soul, angels, etc – is very low at 9%.”

In rethinking spirituality he is therefore seeking to bring greater clarity to our understanding of what spirituality means for this significant proportion of the British population who are, “neither strictly religious nor strictly non-religious, but rather moving in and out of the undesignated spaces in between.”

Jonathan moves into the space between the common reference points of atheism and religion to explore what spirituality might look like for a society that is facing challenges that are economic, social, environmental and related to education and healthcare.

There is much in Jonathan’s post to absorb and consider, but for me one standout contribution was his framing of an understanding of spirituality. He writes:

“I am beginning to think of it as a mixture of three inter-related fundamental aspects of how we relate to each other and the world: perspectives (world views, life stances, values), practices (meditation, rituals, customs) and experiences (belonging, aliveness, transcendence).”

What I like about this is that it concurs with the lived and experienced reality of most people – it observes spirituality in so much of what flows from our human-ness. And it stands firmly in the land between atheism and religion where most people seem to feel at home.

Of course, from a firmly Christian (or Abrahamic faith) viewpoint this definition is lacking important clarity about the origin of the spiritual nature of humans:

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Gen 2:7

Here it is the activity of God in breathing spiritual life into all of humanity, as represented by Adam, that gifts to us our inherent spirituality, even if this is later corrupted or dulled by events, culture or beliefs.

I see in this definition the activity of a spirit breathing God, even if another doesn’t. But within it I believe we both recognise a non material essence at work that transcends descriptions of spirituality that rest largely on neurology, psychology and emotion.

Spirituality is both hard to define and also something that doesn’t seem to want to go away, chiefly because it speaks, as through a glass darkly, of something most people seem to ‘know’ instinctively. In which case it matters because, acknowledged or not, spirituality plays a part in many of our interactions with others, with the world around us and with our inner selves and shapes our responses and behaviours in often profound ways.

Perhaps we should take it a little more seriously.

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Prayer Spaces in Schools autumn conferences

Prayer Spaces in Schools conference

The number of prayer spaces happening in schools and colleges continues to grow exponentially with over 500 (that we know of) in the last five years. Some people have run loads, some are just setting out. In that time we’ve also connected with many people in the field of education who are enthusiastic about the place prayer spaces can play in the life of schools and who have expertise to share with prayer space practitioners.

That’s why this year Prayer Spaces in Schools is running two slightly different conferences in four locations.

The Development Days in London (Mon 30 Sep) and Leeds (Tue 1 Oct) are for those who have run a few prayer spaces and will feature a series of short talks followed by discussion on:

– spiritual development of children and young people
– Christian schoolswork trends and opportunities
– chaplaincy
– prayer spaces and pastoral care
– working in a multi-faith context.

The day conferences in Bristol (Thu 24 Oct) and Edinburgh (Sat 9 Nov) are for those who are thinking of running their first prayer space or are looking for new ideas and resources and will have a range of practical workshops from people with experience of running prayer spaces.

– how to host a prayer space
– creating prayer activities
– theology and values of prayer spaces
– prayer spaces in primary and secondary schools
– what next? chaplaincy and permanent prayer spaces

All the info and links to book in are here.

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