Here is a contentious thing. Americans go all funny when you talk about it, but there you are. That’s Americans for you, with their fine but highly politicized view of faith.

I am talking about the role and use of prayer in school. Not just public prayer, or prayer in collective worship (all fantastic things and genuinely listened to by God, as far as I can judge the results), but the sense of a school being undergirded by prayer. The sort of prayer that millions of American Christians do for their schools every day. The sort of prayer you can’t keep out of schools, because of the determination of the Holy Spirit to bless. The picture above is from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which among many fine attributes, has an aggressive determination to prevent public prayer in schools in the US. Not that it is illegal, in the sense of being prohibited by the constitution; it is just a habit Americans have got into through pursuing perhaps too rigorous an interpretation of the separation of church and state.

On Tuesday it was becoming clear that a range of personal problems and difficulties were beginning to pressurise individuals in school (children, teachers, parents) to the extent that some were feeling overwhelmed by them, or struggling to know how to cope with them. This had started earlier in the term, but for many there was a sense of real pressure, the sort of presure that indicates spiritual attack by what Paul calls “the principalities and powers of the heavenly realms” – negative spiritual entities who in the Bible aim to undermine the trust and love that Christians try to have for God – and who are sometimes personalised in the term “the accuser of the brethren”. So, for each of the troubled folk who came to see me over Monday and Tuesday, I asked them if they would like me to pray for them, for protection, defence and resolution of issues that were causing the pressure or pain. All of them said yes, and I did.

We have a number of praying people in the school staff and I e-mailed all of them on Tuesday evening to ask them in general terms to support us in prayer. Many responded, saying that they would pray through Wednesday, or would pray straight away.

Wednesday morning dawned, and it was clear to me that a lot of the pressure had begun to recede – there was something discernibly different in the school atmosphere, and when we began to sing together in Collective Worship, it soon became obvious that there was a lightening of the spiritual atmosphere. The school chaplain, Nick, arrived from having had coffee with a group of parents who meet to discuss issues around parenting and faith, and had in tow two parents who were eager to help him pray around the school – same issues (peace, protection of the weak and vulnerable, healing of relationships, awareness of the love of God) being aired with God on a “prayer walk”.

20 minutes later, and I had KS1 Collective Worship – we sang loudly and without reserve Unamandla Jesu Wam and We are marching in the light of God, but the sense of openness to the Holy Spirit was fantastic. Children listened carefully, listened to stories, joined in with their whole hearts and began to enter into worship together. I felt free to tell them of God’s love, wide and free, and that those whose parents had told them of his love were rich indeed.  A remarkable time, undergirded by faithful prayer (not just on that day, but over many years).

Nothing proven here, of course. But transformational? You might have to be visually impaired not to see it. Prayer in schools – bring it on!

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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