We've had a wonderful week running Sanctum at Alderman Blaxill School. This was our eleventh Sanctum and the second at the school after a long gap of over 2 years. Our week was marked by some wonderful students, many enthusiastic staff and quite a few visitors, of which more later. We were delighted to have the use of a currently unused upstairs art room which gave us lots of space and, with windows on both sides, lots of light and a sense of praying over the school.
We made a slow start on Monday, finishing the set up by break time but having no classes, so only a few students through at break and lunch time. From Tuesday things became much busier and over the week we recorded over 300 visits.
On Tuesday we welcomed our first visitors, two OFSTED inspectors who were part of a team visiting the school on Monday and Tuesday. They seemed to enjoy their visit, asked a few questions and one did one of the activities (Identity, a narration with mirrors that looks at how we see ourselves, how others see us and how God sees us.) After 15 minutes they were off to another class. How had we done? Apparently they were talking enthusiastically about Sanctum when they met their next teacher.
Later we were joined by friends from Oxford, Paul Sparrey and Catherine Clayton who is part of the Prayer Spaces in Schools team and is developing prayer spaces in Oxfordshire schools. At lunchtime the room was full of students getting stuck into the different activities and we also had a few popping in after school.
Every school where we've done Sanctum seems to have a trend that emerges through the prayers and reponses posted around the room giving a sense of the big issue that's on the heart of the students. By the middle of the week the thanks posted on the Thankful activity, the apologies written on the Sorry cards and the prayers on the Prayer Wall all pointed to relationships with family as being what mattered most to these young peope. As well as the usual ups and downs of family life, many of these young people have fathers in the army serving in Afghanistan.
On Thursday we had more visitors, this time from our next door neighbours, CYO Braintree, who were in o have a look at how we run a prayer space in school. With them was an RE teacher who has been doing creative work with her groups on spirituality so we were able to swap stories and resource ideas whilst watching over another day of classes and busy break and lunch times.
Moments that made us smile during the week included several linked to the Identity activity, one boy emerging from it declaring, as if to the whole room, "That was amazing!" and a girl similarly pronouncing, "Wow! I feel so loved and accepted!" As ever, the quiet tent was hugely popular, though the students were generally very good at keeping to no more than two people at a time. We also encountered some challenging moments - foreign students with barely any English language skills; a girl who seemed to find it impossible to focus for more than 30 seconds who just ricocheted from activity to activity until finally being captivted by the Identity activity. I spent most of one lesson chatting to two Year 9 boys who were both utterly convinced there was no God, and seemed capable of declaring any of their views as incontrovertible fact and therefore any other view was stupid. Although there was no appropriate opportunity to raise it, I sensed in their bravado a troubled childhood, confirmed later by a teacher.
And so to Friday, today's visitor being Emily Hannah from Christian Youth Ministries in Ipswich. CYO and CYM have had a long partnership and we seem to be visiting each other quite a bit at the moment, swapping ideas and being inspired by each other's work. Just one class today and the usual busy break and lunchtime. After lunch Amy and I packed it all away and squeezed Sanctum back into our cars to take everything back to the office
For Amy in particular it has been a significant week as it builds on the pastoral work she has been doing at the school and at a stroke defines her role more obviously as Chaplain. She will be back next week and from some preliminary discussion our hope is that she will be able to continue a Sanctum like experience for students one lunchtime a week.