'Children need more opportunities like this to get out what’s going on for them on the in-side. It’s very healthy for them to have time when they are not doing or watching something on a screen.'Staff (England)

The Empty Chair. A new prayer activity about grief and loss.

Matt Rushby and the Prayspace team at BCY have run some fantastic prayer spaces around Bury St Edmunds for the last few years. This article reproduced with permission from Matt's blog.

"One of the things we always find students doing in Prayspace is praying for or to their dead relatives. Whilst this is not something we encourage, it has certainly flagged up to us repeatedly that we need to find a way to directly and sensitively engage with the thoughts, feelings and reality of loss and grief.

Finding a way of approaching this felt all the more appropriate in our Christmas-themed Prayspace, as it is often at times of celebration that we notice someone by their absence. The chair they would usually have filled is left vacant.

This idea of The Empty Chair seemed like a strong visual so we worked up the prayer activity from there.

We wanted the prayer activity itself to look really special. To that end we used various bits of lighting rig (that we usually use to form the ‘Be Still’ tent) and made an enclosed booth from black sheets. We used some voile for fabric doors to give privacy but also to allow for safeguarding appropriateness. We then spotlit the chair. The Head of Humanities brought in a lovely rug to put on the floor, which was a great addition. It was a small piece of theatre, really, and it looked great.

To give students a simple way to remember someone we provided luggage tags for them to write a name on, which they then tied to a really lovely antique chair (borrowed from an equally lovely Trustee, who herself had inherited it when her mother-in-law died). The info panel encouraged students to think of their favourite memory of the person and to give thanks for it, and also to talk to God about their feelings if they wanted to. We also wrote a very simple poem which sat on the chair for people to read as they took a moment to think of someone. We limited the activity to just two at a time.

"A number of the comments in our visitors book were about how helpful The Empty Chair was, and how much they appreciated the support of the Prayspace Guides who sat with them."

During the intro to the room we made a very definite point of saying that grief and sadness are not weird or strange, but completely normal, natural and important. We emphasised that Prayspace is a safe space. If they felt the need to cry that was absolutely fine – and much better than bottling it all up inside where those feelings can do more harm than good.

It was very moving and humbling to see students released to express their grief – some of which was very recent and raw. On reflection, perhaps the most important thing was to give students the permission to express their sad feelings. It’s not something that is done very often, it seems. Some students sat by themselves, some with a friend, some wanted the company of a staff member or a Prayspace Guide.

We had some very brave and emotional students give some beautiful feedback in the group debrief in the room at the end of the sessions. In addition, a number of the comments in our visitors book were about how helpful The Empty Chair was, and how much they appreciated the support of the Prayspace Guides who sat with them, talked to them or just handed them a tissue (make sure to have some on hand if you use this idea!)."

We'll be adding The Empty Chair to our prayer activity library very soon. If you've adapted or designed new prayer activities please share them with us via the Upload Resources webpage.


Posted on 12th February 2015

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