I am a parent of one of the students at St Martin's and, with the assistance of the Headteacher Beverley Stanislaus, and her team, members of Holy Trinity Tulse Hill (who work closely with the school) and Oasis Church Colliers Wood (of which I am a member) hosted a prayer space for three days.
I first put the idea to Mrs Stanislaus back in January after attending a Christians in Government meeting (hosted by DfE) where Catherine from Prayer Space talked about the impact the project was having on schools.
Mrs Stanislaus was very keen to get one going and although usually these events take around a year to set up we had just 2 months, so I pulled together all the help I could get and prayed a lot!!
It was agreed that we would plan for the prayer space to be held over three days during Lent.
It took a day to set up everything, but once complete, we were set to go. The activities around the room were ready, the worship music playlist set and were good to go.
The theme of the activities centred around Easter we focused primarily on the last week of Christ's life. There were 9 activities altogether which included, what are you thankful for, forgiveness, friendships, helping others, your dreams and praying for the world. I really didn't know what to expect and if I'm honest I didn't think many of the girls would turn up (apart from those who we scheduled to as part of their RS lessons).
In the first couple of hours I was overwhelmed by how many of the girls came. They commented on how peaceful and calming they felt just being in the room. How it was a place to breathe, a place where they could be themselves.
I think many of them didn't quite know what to expect but as they started to take part in the activities around the room they felt safe enough to open-up and write what they were feeling. One student just began weeping at the "Sorry" activity where she could write down what she was sorry for and put it on the cross, and in that moment, she made a recommitment to her Christian faith.
Numerous classes filtered in throughout the day, many came at lunch and breaks times as well.
So I left the space early on Tuesday, and wow when I came in on Wednesday the activities were filling up, so many comments, prayers and questions the room started to take shape. From the teachers and students lots of really great feedback. A couple of students were really thankful for the space because they came in to it just before an exam (which they were really nervous about) and were able to find peace and face what was ahead of them. They said that it helped being in the room. Here are just a few.
"My dream is to go to heaven and enjoy it. To see Jesus and the face of God!"
"I hope for me and my family to have successful futures and are able to make our dreams come true with the Lord's help!"
"I wish my grandad would come back to earth..."
"I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity of having so many hardworking teachers. I hope they don't give up on us and that they can find some peace and joy in their job.
"To do good on my exams and become a midwife when I'm older"
"I hope my mum hangs on to life during birth and my brother can be able to release his emotions without being called names!"
Lots and lots of the girls have been coming back today it's been amazing watching them engage and some not engage so much, but I realise that just the mere fact that they are in the room something transforming is happening to them, even though they can't physically see it.
There were also some of the challenging questions were things like "How can God love me? He can't love me, I've been too bad!" "Why do good people have to die?" "Why didn't you kill the devil if you knew what he was going to do?" Why are we still sinning?
By now the room was filled with much more prayers, reasons to be thankful, worries, dreams, big questions, saying sorry!
The girls kept coming and we kept re-stocking paper pens etc! It was nice to see some of the staff come in and see what the girls had done, I think they may have seen another side to the students that they teach. Even some of the most difficult of students came and found it a restful, peaceful place.
As we came to the end of our time and we started to pack up I felt sad, many of the girls were sad to see us go. Many were hoping that we would be there longer. There is such a need my heart breaks, some of these girls just want to hear someone say something nice to them, encourage them and let them know someone is on their side.
I'm not a teacher, I don't work in a school, I'm a parent and I can see as a parent how valuable this space was, not just for the students but for the staff also. I have been so impacted by these 3 days and I know that the school has too, and the realisation is just hitting me now as to how vital these spaces are.
The plan is to do another one, not sure when yet, but the school are looking for a permanent space for this to happen.
When two girls reconciled their friendship at the forgiveness activity.
When the students actively asked for the space to stay.
Only having three days at the school.
I would like to add my heartfelt thanks to Donna Akodu, for planning and leading on this highly successful event. Also to members of Oasis Church Colliers wood for their time during the three days and to Jacque Sutcliffe and Aileen Gardener from Holy Trinity Church.
To all the girls and staff who visited the prayer space, we know how special and important this was and we are looking at establishing a permanent spiritual sanctuary at the heart of our school.