Prayer Spaces & Leavers celebration services Newcastle Cathedral 

22nd June 2023

Prayer spaces in schools has been a real gift to the school and church communities I have worked in over the years. Its something I have used as annual events in the calendar both with primary and secondary schools. As churches we have hosted week long prayer spaces as well as one day events for year group transitions. I love the flexibility of prayer spaces the way it can suit the space and timing of the event. We have used huge halls, school stages and class rooms. Always working to fit where we are allows the schools to see we are adaptable and that we are thinking about what works best for the space. 

I’ve found that creative prayer spaces is often new to the young people, the idea that prayer isn’t restricted to sitting still or having a set way of speaking out loud. For the young people it’s actually an expression of self and way to connect to God or the world around them.  

I recently joined the team in Newcastle Diocese as the Youth Advisor and when planning our annual school leavers celebration services, I was excited to rethink what had gone before. As a team we really wanted to offer something that felt quite creative to go along with the new reordering of the Cathedral- Pew’s being removed! It felt important for the schools involved in the celebrations to be able to reflect in a way that was individual to them and their pupils. Prayer spaces in schools seemed like the perfect vehicle to do that. 

I now had a whole cathedral I could fill with prayer spaces!

I firstly spent time thinking through what has worked well in other settings as well as spending time in the Cathedral to really visualise the potential spaces and how they could be used. Using the space creatively where the young people could travel around the cathedral allowing them to feel comfortable in the space. For me using prayer spaces in schools as a format is as much about the experience of prayer as being something personal and creative but also about sharing ourselves and churches breaking down some of those long held barriers. The perception of how church ‘should’ be or has been for lots of people attending is quite different when they experience prayer spaces in schools. For the young people and their school leaders/volunteers this can change people’s opinions of what ‘church’ is. 

I definitely find it easier to have a starting point so using ideas that are already there was great but adapting them to our theme or setting.  I used spaces that helped the young people reflect on how they feel about school and what their new school might be like. Who are they as individuals and celebrating how unique and wonderful each person is. I wanted them to think about how far they have come since starting school and that despite maybe having some worries about going to a new school , they’ve learnt lots of the skills they need already. It was intentional about being Godly as well as being reflective so accessible for all. 

Through the planning process it was easier for the team involved to have a list of suggested spaces then for us to choose what we felt would work best. We decided on and used 

Us as individuals – finger print prayers , we are all created and loved we are special because we are all different – this space was brilliant at starting conversations around what is similar about all of us, what is unique and different , and celebrating the differences, 

Reflecting on what has been and what is to come- transition butterflies – does a caterpillar know how beautiful it will be, we can’t see the future but know that we all can have things to look forward to. We have changed in our time at school and we will continue to change – it’s beautiful – the young people loved this one, it got them really engaging with what’s been great so far in their school years and what would be possible when we look ahead. 

Seeing diversity as community – mini self portraits – celebrating how we all make a wonderfully diverse community, we are all part of a community at school and in other spaces and places. This one was great for starting conversations around what makes us diverse and why that’s a special thing. 

Adventure Mountain, cutting footprints and sticking them to mountain wall paper ( I had the most questions about this one mainly where did I buy the wallpaper here !  ) we thought about what challenges us, if something was really hard we might say we are just starting to climb the mountain , sometimes when we overcome the challenges we will say we’ve overcome the mountain. This one was sometimes quite an emotional process for the young people but having the ability to reflect on things and see how far the have come even when things challenge them felt like a positive activity. The teaching staff loved this one as a tool to reflect and share feelings. 

Prayer hands- cut out had shapes, usually Christians use their hands to pray it tells us in the Bible to pray if we are worried– is there anything that worries you about moving school? This one was flexible so for some kids this was very much about sharing what they are really excited about too. An overriding theme that emerged from this was will they have friends in new school. 

The gift of thanks- Thank you cards – we wanted to give the opportunity to the young people to say thank you to people who had helped them in school, so they wrote or drew on blank postcards a thank you note with the intention of giving that to their special person. This was great for the diverse age and ability range, as it allowed them to be creative with their thank you’s. 

The young people had lots of mixed emotions about moving schools and what their next stage might be, my intention was to develop spaces that would allow all young people the opportunity to express themselves. And based on the feedback it was received well.   

We were all encouraged with how the young people engaged with each space ( I had back ups just in case one of the spaces didn’t work for the young people ) I got a sense that the young people really valued their time using the prayer spaces. There was enough to do for just over an hour, so coupled with the leavers celebration it made for a great whole morning or afternoon event. 

We got some verbal feedback as we shared the space some of the comments were from 

Staff and volunteers

Its lovely, we have children who are autistic and can really struggle in some spaces. This way has allowed them to join in more. 

It’s great to be in the space and using the whole building not just sitting still.

Its been nice for the young people to reflect and think about the personal skills they have learnt. 

Usually when we have a church visit its just the school/class and the vicar sometimes one other, its nice that the children are meeting lots of people who are in churches and see others for who this is important. 

Its great to see young people volunteering in church (We had some youth leaders from a local church project who are early 20’s the rest of us are more ancient !!)  

The young people

I loved it all

I liked the butterfly one thinking about all the fun stuff 

Its been good 

This isn’t what I thought prayer was 

Team reflections were the more people that were in the space created an atmosphere of excitement. The times flies over when everyone’s in so being prepared is key to its success. 

Invite more volunteers, get the word round the churches who are connected to the schools visiting. Don’t rely on the schools mentioning it to the churches no matter how good the relationships are we found we invited people who are very involved with their local church school and they didn’t know anything about the school visiting the event. 

Invite all schools that you have a good relationship with, our nonchurch schools got lots from this event and it was a great way for the schools to see prayer spaces in action without committing to giving a hall for a week. 

Have someone who coordinates on the day – things like keeping timings and making sure everyone knows their role.  

Schools like lots of notice – the sooner you can book in dates the better.