Sanctum at the Gilberd School

DSC_5038“Peaceful”, “Calming”, Relaxing”, “a safe place to let out your feelings”, “Spiritual”; just some of the words and phrases students used to describe their experience of Sanctum last week.

Sanctum is our prayer space for schools and this was the sixth time we’ve run it at this school over the past four years. Each time we wonder if there’s a creeping danger that young people will start to become over familiar and lose the impact of the experience Sanctum offers and each time we learn new things as we gradually become overwhelmed by the responses through the week.

One of the team said of the impact they saw in the lives of so many young people, “How can we explain fully what goes on here? How can we bottle this and show it to people?” The week was full of stories of students discovering peace, finding release from past hurts and recognising the practice of prayer in many different ways. Then there was the response of teachers, those visiting with classes and others I met who had popped in when no one else was around to pause and read what the students had written. They were overwhelmingly positive and often very moved by what they saw and experienced.

It’s often the simplest of activities that create the biggest impact. One involves holding a glass bead while you pray and then placing the bead in a bowl. We were amazed at the number of times we noticed students clutching a bead, eyes closed in an obvious gesture of prayer. Young people frequently say how much they’ve been helped by the forgiveness activity, a narration that encourages people to place a stone into a bowl of water to symbolise the act of forgiving. One boy said it allowed him, “to forgive other people, and myself.”

The team were able to have many conversations with young people about life and beliefs and our own faith in a God who hears our prayers. And for some, it was a place where they could be open about the pain of life. The Prayer Wall was covered in post-it notes, most of them beginning, “I wish…” “I wish that my dad will find me.” “I wish for God to look out for my friends.” “I wish I was loved.” “I wish I could be with my sister every day.” One of our volunteer helpers was having a conversation with a girl at an activity that looks at life priorities. The girl had picked out ‘loving family’, ‘good health’, ‘friends’ but then, holding back a tear, said, “I need my family to love me.” The girl was encouraged by the conversation that followed to recognise all the other ways she is supported by friends; but you still come away bearing a little of the pain that these young people carry.

There is also much joy, though, and the ‘thankful’ activity helped many to reflect on the good things going on in their lives that they often take for granted. One new activity focussed on ‘random acts of kindness’, encouraging young people to write on a card flower their pledge of a kind action they would do for others. We nearly ran out of space, there were so many cards hanging from the tree. I’ll do some specific posts on a few of the activities in the next few days.

So what of the ones who have seen it all before, some three times? Far from becoming over-familiar or bored with it, they all say it seems to mean more to them each time, something we’d picked up from responses at another school last summer. One boy said his “… responses were stronger because you can trust the space more. It made the experience even more personal.”

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