Some of us in the chaplaincy team at Christ the Sower were looking back last week on the strength this term of the theological reflection we have asked children to do as we have together studied Jesus I am… statements in John’s gospel. It was, I think, quite an ask for teachers with little theological background or training to try and take these amazing statements and turn them into something that children could relate to and hang onto in the week that followed the introduction. It was even more of an ask to encourage ordinary teachers to try and take what they had heard in the hall on the previous day and turn it into something meaningful for class collective worship the following day, despite the support given. I am not certain how successful that effort was, and to be honest, I am not worried. Helena and Tracey, along with the other members of the chaplaincy team, used the prayer space days on 28-29 March to find ways of reinforcing the message so that children would be able to reflect on them again and again, and the power of the main display we put together during the term (above) meant that children and adults were aware of it whenever they used the hall for worship, PE, eating, or after-school clubs.
What the collective worship times on Mondays did, when each statement was introduced, was lead to some extraordinary visual creativity. Rachel Foster, from the Bridgebuilder Trust, who advises us on and supports collective worship, always talks about visual hooks for our work in teaching during collective worship, and this term they have been very powerful. It has been hard to do – I ended up with I am the gate for the sheep and I am the resurrection and the life. Rooting them in story has been the key for me, as it has for others, using the power of the narrative to help children identify with characters, re-live the tension of it, vicariously enjoy the relief or the pain of the stories and take the meaning from that. I am not sure that systematic theology for children has much of a future, but using techniques more akin to lectio divina than to biblical exposition has certainly helped.
The prayer space days enabled children to sum up their learning in a reflective and interactive way, not only in finding out more, through activity and engagement, about the statements themselves, but also by placing themselves at the heart of I am statements so that they could know that “I am loved, I am wonderfully made, etc”.
The team took over Cherry Hall (our upstairs hall) for the two days and even though our newly ordered gazebos had not come (gazebos are just perfect for creating stands in prayer spaces), there was plenty to think about. A pathway of stones around the hall, with footprints to follow, gave a strong sense of unity to the design.
We have not evaluated the impact of this – that will wait until next term – but the impact of the “I am” learning through collective worship was seen in children’s written responses at the different stations during the two prayer space days, and these are now displayed on our new chaplaincy display (Thank you Helena and Michelle!! Lovely work!).
What has been sown, though, and continues to be an important aspect of our work is the link between
- what Jesus said he is
- the things he was recorded in the gospel having done and
- who we are and how we are subsequently regarded.
This is too important to ignore, and is an implication of all the collective worship we do and of all the prayer spaces we invite children and adults to.
On any day, at any stage, in any newspaper or news website, in any country, you will see actions committed by broken adults who for what ever reason have done or said things that betray the fact that they are not loved, that they have no understanding of the kindness of God, and whose sense of responsibility is impaired or wrecked through believing lies about the purpose, eternal nature, structure or communal value of their own lives. We live in this tragedy all the time, and for children to grow up not knowing that there is a God who loves them, who is for them, and whose longing is to give their lives meaning in the greater community of created and loved humanity, is a form of neglect and emotional abuse reportable to a far higher authority than that of the local Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub.
That is why this matters, and why schools and families who do not help children to understand that eternal perspective are contributing to an adult psyche that will continue to lead to the spiritual deterioration and isolation of our society and make it more likely that the sin that inhabits our world will grow (toward individualistic selfishness, possessiveness and desire at the expense of others) rather than diminish (toward a richer communal affection, mutual acceptance and shalom). It is an enormous challenge, one that, as far as I can see, few churches and fewer schools have accepted.
The prayer spaces and the reflection of Jesus’ purpose in the world is a small start for us, but I am delighted that we have made it.