Sanctum – reflections on our week at Stanway School

Our 20th Sanctum concluded last lesson on Friday with a wonderful Year 8 class. This is a very good school and we’re very grateful for the way we’re welcomed and involved here. Although we haven’t yet had time to go through the students’ feedback forms there are a few stories that stand out and things that we have observed.

As ever, Sanctum can create moments of self awareness that reveal deeper issues. I was chatting with one girl at the “Big Questions” table. She wanted to ask God, “Can I have lots of money”. We chatted for a bit about why money was so important to her and she suddenly added, “I hate my mum, I hate my dad.” “I’d rather have money than friends.” There was a painful awkwardness around the table and she didn’t want to continue the conversation with me or the others sitting there. Later, after seeing her bouncing from one thing to another I spotted her engrossed in the Forgiveness activity, for all the world lost in the gentle encouragement to ‘let go’ of past hurts. I hope she did.

One interesting comment picked up by one of the team was “Why is prayer the only way to talk to God?” It didn’t take long to discover that this young person hates the idea of prayer because they were forced to do it at primary school. Prayer had come to represent a particular style which she found repressive. And yet… she believes in God and seemed sure that she wanted to connect with him. We suggested a whole range of other ways; songs, dance, art and other creative styles.

“Please” is a simple prayer activity inspired by “…they held gold bowls filled with the prayers of God’s people” (Rev 5:8) that involves holding a glass bead while you pray and then placing it in a bowl. One day I overheard some boys gently playing with the beads in the bowl. “Careful with those,” said one to the other, “they’re someone’s prayers.”

Here are a few things we’ve learned this week.

Sanctum works for any age and can ‘grow’ with you – We had several Year 9 groups through (and some Year 10’s in break or lunchtime) who have visited Sanctum each of the three times it’s been here. I was chatting to two girls about what it meant to them coming back for the third year running. They both agreed that it was still just as special because of the way it connected with them now they are older.

Boys – Sanctum definitely works for boys, even if they’re outnumber by the girls who choose to return at break times. When we ask them what they find helpful boys often point to the ones that are some of the most challenging – “Calm” which directs them to be still for 4 minutes; “Identity” which encourages them to face up to their value and worth whilst looking in mirrors; “Forgiveness” which creates a way to let go of the hurts they’ve experienced through the actions of others. Whilst a few can sometimes tend towards silliness, most boys engage with Sanctum with a real seriousness.

Transferrable learning – Completely unprompted, the young people adopted the world map as a place to post their observations about the things that are wrong with the world, all of which brought joy to the geography department! Many of the ills the young people identified and chatted about were things they’d learned about in geography, as well as through the news. There was such diversity in the issues raised; gangs terrorising the Favelas in Brazil, deforestation in Borneo, over-exploitation of natural resources, corruption, natural disasters, people robbed of education or access to clean water, racism in football, inequality… here was a lamentation for a fallen world.

We’re looking forward to reviewing the feedback from the students.

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