Posted by Phil on 25.04.2012
Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull is a Church of England sponsored secondary academy with about 1250 students on role. The academy is located in one of the poorest areas of East Hull and has a high percentage of students on free school meals.
My name is Jason Taylor and I am the Academy Chaplain, based here full time, four days a week. During the last two weeks of Spring Term I got permission to run our first Prayer Spaces in Schools event from our senior leadership team. Incredibly I also got permission to take almost the whole academy off timetable to take part.
The academy is fortunate to have its own chapel and this was the space chosen for the event.
About two-thirds of the school came through the chapel over the two weeks and we had a mixture of local youth workers, clergy and community volunteers on hand to guide students through. I think it’s fair to say the helpers and I got as much from the fortnight as the students did.
Some students came feeling nervous about what was going to happen whilst others came full of bravado and humour - ready, as we say in Hull, to “lark” about. All left thinking differently and many had quite deep experiences. A few of these are outlined below:
One day one of our female helpers noticed a girl standing in front of our prayer wall but not writing on it. She went over to see if the girl needed any help and to check she knew what to do. The student said she was fine but was very quiet and the helper sensed all was not well. Rather than force a conversation the helper just stood with the student for about 10 minutes. After the silence the girl turned to the lady and said, “both my grandparents have just died within a week of one another”. They were then able to have a short conversation and say a prayer.
We had a prayer request box available and at the end of each day I would take the cards out and pray for each one individually. Many a tear was shed reading what the students had written. One card read something like this, “Dear God, I wish you would make my dad better, but I know there is no fix for brain injuries. I miss my dad and the way things were before the drink and drugs made him so sick”. Heartbreaking stuff!
Other students wrote about family break-ups, bereavement, relationship problems, issues with self-image and even of struggling to cope after an abortion.
When we asked students for feedback almost 100% was positive with many students saying they wanted it to be permanent and expressing gratitude for the time and space to think and reflect on their lives and God.
"It has made me think about how lucky I am. I would have liked more time".
"It makes you think about problems in the world and allows you to express how you feel about them".
"I felt better for saying sorry for the things I have done and helped me to express my feelings".
"I think there should be more than one Prayer Space around the academy, not just the chapel"
Andrew Chubb, the Academy Principal said this; "I was delighted with the success of the PSIS initiative. It gave our students a valuable opportunity to reflect on spiritual issues, such as the need for forgiveness, and to ask for prayer themselves. For a very large proportion of our students, this was the first time they had been actively encouraged and given the opportunity to do this, and the responses were very positive. The initiative also paved the way very effectively for a full review of our academy values by our students, which again was highly positive."
It was a tiring fortnight physically and emotionally but it was worth every bit of effort. Staff who came to see what we were doing were blown away by what they saw and experienced. The local press came to do an article and the reporter even took some of the resources back to her offices to do them with her colleagues! Other local schools are now also interested in running a prayer space, having seen and heard about ours.
It may have been our first prayer space but it definitely won’t be our last!