Posted by Phil on 08.08.2012
"We recently finished a week of prayer in Guildford County School in Guildford. As I wandered round the classroom at the end of the week and saw the questions - the fears and the honest feelings of the students who encountered this room - the words of Jesus in Matthew 19 echoed round my head; “let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
The school's response to the week was incredible. The Head teacher popped in as we were packing down and said; “Same next year?” Students from all year groups engaged in deeper ways, both with the prayer space and with the lessons we ran.
The lessons focused around providing a place for students to explore prayer, to discuss their honest opinions, and to think about prayer in a new way. We explained that we were coming from a Christian perspective but that we weren't there to teach what we thought was 'right and wrong'. Through this simple approach many of the students who initially called themselves atheists opened up to the possibility that there may be more to prayer than they initially thought.
Once the prayer activities were explained we found that we could leave the classes to explore and engage. One of my favourite prayer responses was at the 'Jenga Prayers' activity, which simply said; “Atheist Prayer: Stop war.” There really isn't any definition or difference between 'atheist' and 'Christian' when it comes to seeking for truth and meaning, and prayer spaces allow even those with no belief in God to try out and 'cry out' in prayer. By the end of the week the room was covered and towered high with prayers from young people trying to understand what they see around them.
In our feedback session students said that the prayer space gave them hope. One girl said; “I never thought that writing things down would help and whilst I don’t know it if will, it feels like it will.” She wasn’t sure of the outcome, but something inside her had connected with the prayer space. A Year 10 boy wanted longer to think about his feelings - his experience of the prayer space had helped him to recognise that it was an important thing to do. One of the girls who started out by describing herself as an 'atheist' said afterwards that the experience had “really opened up my eyes.”
Many students felt the prayer space was a place of refreshment. While it was difficult to think about some of the things that are happening around them, they said that the prayer space helped. One boy said; “this room is like drinking a cold glass of water and washing all the stuff away.” He'd realised that there was something about forgiving himself and others that changed him.
Lots of the prayers were to do with family breakdown, divorce, cancer, world peace and a lost sense of identity. For the students who wrote these, the prayer space was a pastoral place, a place of rest and hope. Our hope, of course, is that it was a place for them to approach the Father, with all the questions and confusions of life, as his dearly loved children. We hope that some of the hostility towards prayer and God dissolved a little bit, and that the simplicity of the prayer space and the lessons made it easier for them to 'come to Jesus'."
Emma Nicholson is a relational schools worker with the Matrix Trust in/around Guildford.