‘Open Doors & Outstanding Favour’, Prayer Spaces in Stanford, Essex (Part 1)
Over the next few months, Scott Riddle will be telling the story of prayer spaces (and much more) in Stanford-le-hope. Here's where the story begins.
"The first step was in 2005, and it started with prayer. As a church community (24-7 Prayer Stanford), we decided to set aside a whole week and pray for our local secondary school, Gable Hall School. At the end of the week, one of church leaders was invited to join the school’s Board of Governors. It felt like the beginnings of an answer to our prayers, so he accepted the invitation.
Starting by Serving
A little while later, before Prayer Spaces in Schools had even launched properly, a woman in our church began to pray for opportunities to host prayer spaces in the local schools. Within a few months, she was invited into one of the primary schools, and with help from a few others, she hosted our first prayer space! A year later, we hosted a prayer space in St Clere’s Academy, and then our first one in Gable Hall School, both of which were amazing. When the leadership at Gable Hall changed we met with the new Head teacher, and we asked, 'How can we be a blessing to your school?' Given that our church community have always valued hospitality highly, we decided we would run an after-school café every week, which also included it’s own prayer space.
Over the next five years, everything seemed to grow – we seemed to experience continual open doors and outstanding favour. We ran a variety of new projects in partnership with the school, and students began to help us run the café. In 2012, after a few months of offering some focused support to a boy who had been struggling with school, we realised that other students might benefit from this kind of support as well. So, we worked on a proposal, which included aspects of pastoral and spiritual support, and offered to serve the school community as their chaplains – and the response was a resounding yes! This chaplaincy service has now extended into three schools, and we support around 70 individual students every year.
Meanwhile, the boy that we had been supporting continued to struggle. The school felt like they had exhausted every other option, so they asked if we could provide a day of 'alternative education' for him. Needless to say, we agreed. We invited the boy to join us on our cafe days, and he got involved with everything – he cooked lunches, he helped to create prayer spaces, and he buttered a lot of toast! It had such a positive impact on the boy, that in 2015, this ‘alternative education’ provision expanded to six students, and it’s grown even more since then. Now, we oversee Gable Hall’s entire ‘alternative education’ provision, working closely with 14 students across four days. We’ve also started an after-school cafe service in another local secondary school, where, on one memorable afternoon, we had 20% of the whole school through our doors for toast, games, and prayer.
What We've Learned (So Far)
We’ve learned a few things over the past few years; how to put up a prayer space in ten minutes, the rules for Extreme Uno, and how to decipher a GCSE specification! But more than that, we have learned;
1. Don't do it alone – family and community makes things sustainable. So even if you are just starting to pray, gather others and do it together.
2. Everything begins, and is sustained in, prayer - the journey began in a prayer room, and it is only our daily dependence on God that keeps it going.
3. But it doesn't just end in prayer – be prepared for God to answer your prayers through YOU, by sending you out into the very place you are praying for.
4. Be ready to serve – asking how you can serve your school is better than starting out with a fixed plan. First ask what they need, then decide what you can do with what you have.”
Scott Riddle is part of the 24-7 Prayer Stanford-le-Hope church community, and one of the many amazing people who are serving schools in all sorts of ways in the town.
For a little more of the 24-7 Prayer Stanford story at Gable Hall School, watch this interview with team leader, Charl Harman.