Since we brought the Thursday Morning Eucharist to a close last term, a question for all of us concerned with the spiritual life of Christ the Sower has been: how might we establish regular prayer in the life of our school?
At the moment, the visible signs of prayer in our school are:
- Prayers (including the grace) within collective worship, both together and in (some) classes.
- Prayer space days, organised by the chaplaincy team with Bridgebuilder’s help, at least three times each year.
- Prayer requests fortnightly on Life and Learning.
- The written, liturgical blessing that is seen in some posters and welcome signs in the school.
- Termly (and maybe slightly more frequent) opportunities for the chaplaincy team to meet for prayer for the school.
- A prayer box at the front of the school (is this used?)
That prayer is a critical feature of the growth of any healthy Christian community (whether a church, monastery, charity or school) is well established in both scripture and practice. Its purpose is to provide a place of thanksgiving, confession, praise, worship and intercession for those who love God and own his name on behalf of those they serve.
Prayer, in a school context, is often “on the go” with us asking the Holy Spirit for help and guidance in the work that we are doing as the day unfolds, to give insight, to know how best to teach, to help children get over hurdles, for peace for troubled children and their families, and for wisdom and discernment when conflict needs resolving.
Prayer is thus often silent and individual. It can also be silent and contemplative, corporate and spoken, liturgical and written down, ad hoc or formulaic. These are the many ways of describing the relationship that an individual has with their King.
There is none of us who do not wish that our prayer life could be stronger, more purposeful, more consistent and more meaningful. Thus it is incumbent upon us as leaders of prayer in the school, to think about the provision of opportunity as well as the exaltation of the importance and relevance of prayer in the school. We have a responsibility to those parents who are teaching their children to pray, to pray for God’s continued blessing upon our school and to beseech Him regularly on behalf of those who need God’s intervention, whether supernaturally or through the kindness of the Body of Christ, in their lives or the lives of their families.
What do we need?
What is required, then, is a wide range of prayer approaches, because the individual spirit in each human has been on a particular journey with particular influences and experiences that mean that the way they see God or approach Him is different. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ – as both man and as God and as sender of the Holy Spirit, is sufficiently mysterious to validate all sorts of ways of coming to Him.
Over the last two terms, I have been struck by the opposition (manifested in lethargy and distraction, often) to my desire to embed prayer-practice more deeply in our school. Others have commented on this as well, and it really should not surprise us at all. We are in a definite spiritual battle, with very real forces intending to oppose us as we seek God’s blessing, flourishing and revelation to families and staff members. Thus I find myself crying out to God for His protection for us – His work here is a precious thing and it stands in a predominantly secular world. It needs us to pray for its stability and strength. So, because our strength is in the affection and commitment of our relationships, then these too need prayer – for protection and mutual submission. The physical building can be a source of joy or discontent, and the relationships in a particular classroom can sour the experience of those learning there – this too needs prayer.
All of this leads me towards a “whole-life” model of prayer that is more akin to a monastic or Celtic approach than it is to a traditional liturgical or free church “prayer meeting” type of prayer. Both have a definite place in our school, but our use of time, the routines of the day and the constancy of the need and pressure in our work all point to a “little and often” approach to prayer, where frequent, repeated submission to God, worship of Him, seeking of Him and intercession for ourselves and others is intertwined within the day. Children and adults face the challenges of work and we need to encourage a view where God is in everything we do and with us in everything we attempt or learn.
This results very much from the theological perception of early Celtic Christians and the subsequent monastic approach to mission that God is involved in (with apologies to the Swedish voiceover in IKEA adverts) the “wonderful everyday”. Every person, every building, every room, every friendship, every lesson, every game, every time of play, every “corner of the day” is beloved of God and of interest to Him. Nothing is beyond His reach. Jesus, as God incarnate, dwells fully with us in everything we do.
A possible way forward
My proposal is that prayer at Christ the Sower should reflect that reality. What could it look like?
- A daily, protected “midday prayer” where we would use Soul Space as a place of quiet worship for 15 minutes. In this time would be:
- A chance for silent prayer
- Quiet music playing to aid meditation and worship
- A daily liturgy which people could use either together, out loud; or silently.
- Cards with written prayers on, or psalms, that could be used to focus prayer.
- Written prayers or scriptures on the walls.
- It would have a “drop-in” feel – folk coming and going as required.
There would be some debate about when exactly would be the best time, but I propose a 12.20 to 12.35 period as one that would encompass as many people as possible (I know that this excludes nursery, so we could, if needed, have a 11.45-12.00 session as well). We could organise it so that it was one day a week, with three possible drop-in points. This would be a big ask for us in terms of time commitment, but if we were open about what our commitment to sustain this could be, I am positive we could make it work.
We could start weekly and then go to twice weekly as more interest was shown. However, if we did it daily, it would be more likely that those unable to attend on one day could come on another.
- A daily (or weekly) reflection around a psalm – this could be incorporated in collective worship, and taken from the daily psalm readings (short) at, for instance, the Revised Common Lectionary at http://www.lectionarypage.net/ or the morning prayer at the Northumbria Community: http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/.
- Written prayers for junctions of the day, to be used by children and adults alike. These could be taken from the Lion Book of 1000 Prayers for Children, for instance and cover such times as:
- Peace and joy at breaktime
- Grace before lunchtime
- Welcome prayer for the day
- A prayer for peace at the end of the day
- A prayer for when we are stuck, or having difficulty, or don’t know what to do.
- A prayer for God’s protection and help
These are not “prayers for prayer’s sake” but genuine and repeated reconnections to God’s love for us and our dependence on Him that turn the day from being a day lived with Him only at the top and tail of it, to one lived in His continuous presence.
- Prayers for places: the Celtic prayer tradition is full of these – prayers for hospitality and prayers for rooms (particularly for the blessing of God’s peace in those rooms).
- This could be small prayers of blessing at the entrance to rooms, on the front doors of the school, at the entrance to the library, ICT suite, etc.
- Regular intercession meetings, when those committed to seeing the work of God furthered in school, would meet to pray for each other, to pray prophetically into those areas that God has spoken into already and to ask God to change those situations we feel are blocking children’s flourishing, whether national, local or in school.
These are just start points. They do not exclude all the other things we do, and we are not doing this for SIAMS, but for the protection, health and furthering of God’s work in our school, as part of our calling as Christian disciples in a church school. I have not touched on how we might use this to develop the prayer life of children – a whole separate issue, which overlaps with this position paper, but which has different boundaries, and which Helena has begun to address.
I welcome your thoughts and reactions.