On Wednesday over 100 youth workers, schools workers, teachers, chaplains and a host of others gathered in the crypt of St. James church, Clerkenwell for the first national day conference of Prayer Spaces in Schools. When we originally planned the event we thought we might get 30 or so people along, but Prayer Spaces in Schools seems to be a movement that just keeps growing.
Between the pillars near the back of the room stretched a timeline listing all the prayer spaces in schools we know of that have happened since those first six back in 2008. Now running into hundreds it told, in a very visual way, the story of an exponential growth that has touched schools from Guernsey to Aberdeen, East Anglia to the west of Ireland.
And across the back were a few examples of prayer stations, including some using new downloadable mp3 tracks which should appear on the Prayer Spaces web site soon.
The main emphasis of the day was on sharing news, reflecting on good practice and looking ahead to ways in which this movement could develop. Chris Curtis of Youthscape spoke about the changing landscape of schools work and the growth of, and opportunities for, engagement with the spiritual agenda in education. Then it was time for a few stories from around the country. Among the stories a head teacher spoke about how she imagined what would become one of the first prayer spaces in 2008, and we heard from a team who ran a prayer space as a follow on to 5 weeks of lessons all centred on the person of Jesus. What came through clearly was the relationship between practitioners and schools, and the utterly rooted and contextualised ways in which they had run a prayer space that connected with the needs of the school and of the pupils.
In the afternoon, after a few more stories, we ran three workshops; How to run a prayer space, What next? and Theology and Values. I was running the “What next?” session with Emily from LFIS where we discussed permanent prayer spaces, longer term involvement in the spiritual life of schools through various forms of chaplaincy, taking prayer spaces outside the classroom, and how to develop themes and activities when you’re running prayer spaces as frequently as once a term.
In a quick straw poll I did in one of the plenary sessions we learnt that about half of those attending had already run a prayer space, with others keen to get started. The majority of delegates work with state (non-faith) schools and there was a significant minority who had not been regularly working in schools prior to running, or planning to run, a prayer space. This suggests that there is the potential for considerable growth in the number of Christians supporting the spiritual development goals of schools through running prayer spaces and, if our afternoon workshop was anything to go by, other involvement in schools. In short, a new revolution in schools work.