Prayer Groups in Anglican Schools
This page provides a starting point for conversation and reflection on prayer groups in Anglican Schools. In my mind there are two important aspects to developing groups for prayer in the school setting. The first is about providing the time, space and creativity to engage students who are interested in prayer. The second is enabling the group to provide the wider school community with opportunities for prayer. This page will briefly consider both aspects and consider some practical approaches.
Engaging Students with Prayer
In any Anglican School a small core of students may be found who are willing and interested in meeting to pray for themselves, for the school and the wider community and world. While many of these students may be faithful enough to regularly meet to pray, it is likely that they will be more readily encouraged and sustained in this activity if creative approaches to prayer are used.
We know from research about multiple intelligences that people learn in a variety of ways from the linguistic to the kinaesthetic, and everything in between. These inclinations, it might be suggested, do not just relate to learning, but to the way an individual experiences, connects with and understands the world around them. Prayer that has a strong emphasis on the linguistic may only appeal to certain students whereas broader participation may be developed if a creative approach is adopted.
There are many resources on the internet that provide creative ways to engage young people in prayer. Some of these are listed below. Provided here are a few examples of how students who are committed to regular prayer might be more fully involved in the process. With each of these methods chaplains will need to provide students with some guidance or prompts on what they might pray for, as well as what might be inappropriate to mention during prayer time (eg. Using prayer as an opportunity to gossip)
Prayer Notice Board
Use a portable cork notice board to pin up photographs or names of people or situations to remind the group to pray for them (in a school setting this should not be names of students/teachers unless permission is given). Put names and specific items for prayer on notelets and rotate them regularly so that each thing is prayed for regularly. You could also pin up other pictures, images of Jesus, newspaper articles, poems, words of songs, Bible verses to inspire the group to pray.
This is best suited to silent prayer and involves the students walking through the school and seeing things or people they wish to pray for. Students are encouraged to pray for these things as they walk. There are a few ways this could be done. The group could walk together and as things are identified mentioned to the rest of the group. Alternatively students could take their own paths and then meet back at the prayer space for a time of prayer around the things they have seen.
Passing of the Cross or Squeezy Prayers
Use a small wooden cross or even a metal one on a chain. In a circle the cross is taken up. Whoever holds the cross is the person who prays. This prayer begins with one person who either says a prayer out loud or silently says or imagines a prayer. The cross is passed when the person who holds it is finished. Each person takes their turn. Alternatively students could hold hands, someone begins aloud or silent, and when they have finished they squeeze the hand of the person next to them to indicate it is their turn to pray.
One person places their hand in the middle of the table, then everyone else places one hand on top to create a “stack” of hands. The person whose hand is at the base of the stack goes first, praying a single sentence prayer as they pull their hand out and place it on top of the “hand stack.” Then, the next person, whose hand is now on the bottom, prays as they pull their hand out and place it on top of the stack. When you sense it is time to stop, the adult (whose hand is on the bottom) raises up the pile of hands. That’s the signal for everyone to say “Amen!”.
Give each student a piece of paper and some pens or pencils for drawing. Either in silence or with some quiet music on invite them to draw on the paper the people and things they want to pray for. This could include drawing the outcomes that you might desire for particular situations. As they draw encourage them to do so in silence so they may listen to what God has to say to them. At the end of the allocated time encourage everyone to share what they have drawn and what they are praying for.
A useful image used for intercessory prayer is a stretcher. From Mark 2.3-12, some people lowered their paralytic friend through the roof into the presence of Jesus. This is a good image of the work of intercessory prayer. That is, don’t labour too hard with the words to use, simply do the hard work of placing or ‘lowering’ the person into the presence of Jesus.
Place on the stretcher, someone you know who needs help.
Lower on the stretcher someone who you can love better this week.
Put onto the stretcher a place that needs peace.
Put onto the stretcher one who needs healing.
Put on the stretcher a hope of yours for your life.
Lord in your mercy, receive our prayer.
Cut up strips of paper approximately 4cm wide by 8cm long. Give one to everyone to write a prayer on for the day. Take one of the prayer papers and staple the two ends together so it forms a chain link. Do the same with the other prayers so they form a chain of paper prayers. See here http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Paper-Chain for more detail. Each time you meet you can add more links to your chain until it stretches across the chapel or other space and reminds you that each little bit of pray each day adds up.
Jelly Bean Prayers
Pass around a bowl of jelly beans (Everyone must take a handful but no one can eat any yet. For each different colour they get they need to pray for a different person or thing.
For every green jelly bean – pray for leaders in the school.
For every red jelly bean – pray for a teacher or member of school staff by name.
For every orange jelly bean – pray for a
For every yellow jelly bean – pray for one of your classmates or friends.
For every dark black jelly bean – pray for an event or activity in the life of the school
For every white jelly bean – give thanks for something in the school
For every pink jelly bean – pray for people in need in Australia or overseas
This is a way of encouraging students to take turns praying for the school. Provide students with a holding cross to take home with them to remind them to pray for the school community. This could be for a day or longer. Then they bring the cross back and give it to another student who will pray over the next period of time before passing it on to another student.
Engaging the Wider School Community in Prayer
Many students who would never be willing to commit to a weekly or regular prayer meeting may take the opportunity to pray, regardless of their religious affiliation, if given the chance. One of the roles a prayer group within a school can embrace is that of creating opportunities for the wider school community to pray. These opportunities need to be easy for students to access, be in a public enough space for them to see, but not so public it might cause embarrassment.
There are at least two broad ways that the wider school community might be engaged in prayer. The first is through the creation of permanent or temporary prayer spaces. The second is through prayer events within the school.
Permanent or Temporary Prayer Spaces
There are a variety of ways permanent or temporary prayer spaces might be set up. Here we will focus on prayer spaces generally as the same principles apply to them both. A permanent prayer station is set up all the time whereas temporary ones must be set up only for the time allocated.
A prayer space could be set up inside a classroom, chapel or another room and would need to be supervised by the teacher or chaplain for the time it was accessible. In order to engage students in prayer a variety of prayer stations should be set up within it with simple instructions for how students are to use it. Questions to help prompt reflection and or prayer ideas should also be included.
Again, there are a variety of resources online for prayer stations and some of these are listed below. Provided here are a few different ideas. The most important aspect of a prayer station is that the students can use it by themselves or with a friend. The same multiple intelligence principles mentioned above should be taken into account for prayer stations in order to engage a wide range of students. Quite music and/or essential oils might be used to help create good ambience in the room. Quotes from the Bible or from other sources on prayer might also be included in the space. The main aim is to create a space that might be conducive to students engaging in quiet prayer themselves.
Prayer Sand Box – Tactile Prayer
A shallow box filled with sand might be used as a prayer station where students write their prayers. Other mediums could also be used to create the same effect. Play dough could allow student to mould the things they wish to prayer for. Finger paints could also allow students to write the things they wish to pray for on large sheets of butcher’s paper.
Place a decorated cardboard box with ‘Prayer Requests’ at one of the stations with coloured pencils and papers. Students can write their prayers and place them in the box. Let students know that they can be anonymous or named and that either the prayer group or the chaplain will pray for these things.
Have a pile of stones that people can place in the bowl of water as an act of confession, or of letting go of hurts and anxieties.
Bubble tubes, lava lamps and other slow-moving, coloured-light objects are useful in prayer spaces because they create a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Students are invited to write prayers on post-it notes and stick them onto the tube. Students watch the bubbles rising as a symbol of their prayers ‘rising’ to God. A station could also be set up with bubble blowing equipment for students to use as they prayer.
Breathing Prayer Station
Create a comfortable space where students can engage in silent prayer. Instruct them to get into a comfortable position. On the instructions tell them to: “Ask God to calm their mind and heart. Slow their breathing and think about the rhythm of their breath. Invite students to be still and to listen.
Praying in Sign Language
One station could be set up with a video showing how to pray the Lord’s Prayer in sign language. Prayer comes not just from our mind, heart and mouth, but also from our physical bodies. Go to this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHZiPWxpEvM to learn the Lord’s Prayer in sign language.
Other Station Ideas
The prayer chain idea outlined above can be used for students to write prayers giving thanks. These can be connected to each other and stretched across the prayer space. The “drawing prayer” and the “jelly bean prayers” listed above could also be adapted for prayer stations.
The school prayer group could also create prayer events to be held on particular days or throughout a week. These days may have a particular theme or focus of prayer, or could be open for students to pray for whatever they wish. Here are a variety of prayer event ideas. It is important that the purpose and practice of each prayer activity is explained well to students prior to the event. These may work best if students are told days or weeks in advance what is going to happen and what is being prayed for.
Prayer Event Ideas
Prayer Garden Day
This idea would work especially well when praying for a particular situation such as poverty or injustice. Create many cardboard hands (or other symbolic object) and attach them to something that will stick into the ground such as a plastic fork. Invite students to pray for the particular issue as they stick the object into the designated space, be this a suitable garden or other space. Student might be invited to write their name or a prayer on the cardboard shape. This event gives students a chance to both prayer and show solidarity over a specific issue.
Bead Making Prayer
This may take some planning. Students are invited to make a prayer bracelet out of coloured beads representing particular prayers.
Examples might include:
Purple Bead -Praying for those suffering from poverty, famine or injustice around the world.
Blue Bead – Praying for those who are bullied or having a hard time.
Green Bead -Praying for the environment.
Orange Bead – Praying for school and community.
Particular types of prayer can be assigned to whatever colour beads you have.
Designate a particular tree within the school as a prayer tree. Provide students with cards, ribbon, pens and a hole punch so they can write their prayers and tie them to the prayer tree. Alternatively a long board painted with lots of holes large enough to still rolled up prayers into could be placed somewhere in the school for prayers to be placed into.
Create a labyrinth on a grassed area in the school. Instruct students on how to use the labyrinth to walk and pray.