What an amazing first day. This is the third year that we've run Sanctum at Colchester Sixth Form College but we've never had a response like this. Although we have a much smaller space than previously, the significant difference is that rather than being tucked away in a classroom, we're slap bang in the middle of College life on the concourse. This is what it looks like from the first floor balcony.
This year we've themed Sanctum around the idea of life's journey, with a tag line, "If life's a journey, welcome to check-in." Students 'check in' by writing their name on a luggage tag and then follow the seven activities which focus on our identity, relationships and character. Once they've done these they come back to the activity with the luggage tag to think about the sort of person they want to be in the future, choosing their top three character values from a list of 21 (things like Integrity, Love, Honesty, Compassion and Reliability) and writing these on the back of their tag to take away as a reminder. When things are less hectic and students aren't in a hurry, we've been using a series of cards with these values on them to open up conversations about what's important to them which has led to much openness and reflection on life's priorities.
With the much smaller space this year the capacity of Sanctum is much reduced. But the tradeoff, being in a public space and having a strong theme has meant we had about 75 people through during the day with a near constant stream of visitors, both students and staff. At one point a Philosophy teacher and his class of 15 turned up to try out Sanctum as part of their course on 'religious experience', leading to a brilliant time of discussion afterwards.
At 4:30 we packed away the valuable stuff and before we left, went to have a look in at the other prayer space activity that's tucked away in another part of the college. There is a multi-faith quiet room which, to be honest, is nothing more than a small room which used to have washing machines in it. For the Sanctum week the team, with help from the CU, decked it out with drapes, lights, bean bags and post-it notes. We wanted to leave it set up as a quiet prayer space and allow the students to interact with it entirely in their own way – there's no team member there during the college day.
When we walked in to see how the room had been used it took our breath away. There were honest heartfelt prayers on every wall. In one corner a girl had poured out her feelings in a blizzard of post-it notes – and nearby someone else had written a prayer for the girl. Prayers from the Christian students mingled naturally with the (maybe prayerful) hopes of others. The sense of peace and of God's nearness was tangible; it is a thin place. And all this after just one day.