"Thank you Mr Harris for helping me to be proud of myself"

9th July 2019

“Our mission has always been to be a part of the community and our community garden is integral to this. As well as reducing the impact of our carbon footprint it is a place of peace, joy and an oasis within a busy town. The local schools and community groups help to plant and maintain it alongside one of our churchwardens, Rob.

We have begun an annual open weekend where schools and the public can come and see more, be involved in exploring the environment and have an opportunity to respond to it creatively. This is the second year we have done this.

This year we decided to develop the spiritual side, especially for the year 6 children who visit on Friday from local schools. We used some ideas from the Durham Diocese school leavers service and had prayer stations about ‘Wow!’ moments, ‘Thankfulness’ for those who had been there to help the children during primary school, and an opportunity to ‘Give worries to God’. We also included a place to ‘Be Still’ and the Empty Chair prayer activity as well.

Throughout Friday two local schools brought their year 6 children. As well as spending time outside and doing art activities inside, they spent time voluntarily in the prayer space. One group wrote personal messages of thanks to their friends, to some of their teachers and to the head teacher. One message read, “Thank You Mr Harris for helping me to be proud of myself.” The conversations around the Empty Chair were often about missed pets, and the children talked about them being their friends. One little girl said that when her dad left they had to get rid of the dog. She missed her dad, but even though she saw him, she never saw the dog. Another child talked about a grandfather who had been, in his words, his “idol and inspiration”. All of the children responded openly, honestly and enjoyed it.

What else was valuable about the Friday? Many, many things. For example; the openness of the school to receiving us and allowing us to run a prayer space, or that they want to attend the Leavers Service in Durham Cathedral next year, or the relationships built between the church volunteers and the children, or the little girl who brought her dad in on Saturday to show him the prayer space, or the grandma who heard about it and came on her own.

On the Saturday we opened the church building and people came for strawberry teas, to look at the creative garden and to learn more about what we do. The prayer space had evolved – we added Jenga Blocks for the younger ones, jigsaw pieces and a map linked to the theme of ‘belonging’, and another activity about recognising God’s image in us, and being proud of who we are. We had steady numbers, and many of the parents and other adults didn’t just read the children’s prayers, but they joined in as well.

We also added in our usual Prayer Tree. One of the highlights was when a seven-year old girl from our church congregation wrote a prayer for her daddy. He had a stroke six months ago – he was only 34 – and the little girl has been distant and quiet ever since. She’d even become withdrawn from him. But on Sunday, during the service, she went to the prayer activities and wrote a prayer for him. It was so moving, and we were glad that she had an opportunity to express her prayers in this way.

Incorporating a prayer space in this way was a new venture for us, but it has been wonderful. The children’s responses were uplifting on Friday and the community’s reactions on Saturday and Sunday reaffirmed the hard work, and reinforced it’s importance.

Many of the people in our congregation now understand what a prayer space in school is and how it works… which is good because we have one another school in two weeks time. I have been inundated with volunteers this time!