Back from an Easter break and the work of writing up the responses from the recent Sanctum prayer space continues, this time working our way through the responses to the "Sorry" activity. Among the many general but no doubt honest expressions of sorrow were a few that spoke powerfully of young people trying to come to terms with heartbreaking situations. This one, in particular, had a profound impact on us as a team and on school staff.
"I’m sorry for not spending time with you Mum. Sorry Dad if I doubted you. I feel you two should get along better. I’m sorry for judging you both. I’m sorry for getting angry with you when you both needed me most. I’m sorry for loving you and then disowning you. I’m sorry."
How do we help this young person and their family? Can we? How shall we pray?
One of the joys of running Sanctum, once we get around to it, is writing up all the responses from the young people for each of the different activities.
A couple of days ago I was typing up the responses to the "Thankful" activity, where students write a few words on a post it note about the things they're thankful for. Among the 400 or so post-its there was an overwhelming number saying "friends and family" or variations thereof including quite a few expressing gratitude for grandparents. Then there were the others, not just for pets, football or x-boxes, but inspiring, honest and hearfelt mini prayers of thanks. Here are some of them.
God for creating the beauty of the world
for having that one friend who makes me feel wanted
I am thankful for you in my life. You are well nice and proper thoughtful
I am thankful that I have food, water and a roof over my head. Also that my family love me
to be unique and to be a twin
I am thankful that the 5 year release time is coming up for my sister since she had leukaemia
I’m thankful for everything, even the bad. Thank you for letting me live
that I’m not in somewhere like Haiti or anything and that I’m not poor
I am thankful for my mum who made meI have life and I’m glad it’s how I want it to be
I am thankful for my amazing life family pets and friends
I’m grateful for having all the people I love most around me
Former colleague and friend-whom-I-should-meet-far-more-often, Tom Haward, has been reflecting on identity in a series of raw, provocative, and brtually honest posts. Tom writes remarkable prose, exploring the light and the darkness of our search for identity, viewed sharply and passionately from within yet free of morbidity or self pity.
Liverpool Hope University run a PGCert course in Christian Chaplaincy in Education. This one year part time course covers two modules, Contexts for Educational Chaplaincy, and Skills, Knowledge, Understanding & Values for Educational Chaplaincy. Increasing numbers of people are now working in state schools in a role that combines pastoral supprt and spiritual development from a Christian perspective. Alongside this remarkable movement has been the growing expectation that those working with young people will have some level of relevant qualification, something that has been lacking for regular school visitors but which this course clearly addresses.
With three team members currently involved as chaplains in two secondary schools and the sixth form college we're looking into adopting this course as part of our CPD. We've begun discussions with Hope Uni about the possibility of hosting the teaching days so if you live closer to Colchester than Liverpool and you're interested in this PGCert please get in touch as they need a minimum number of students to make the course viable.
Our week running Sanctum at Thurstable School in Tiptree has been a very 'full' experience in all sorts of ways with over 500 students visiting, some returning a couple of times.
Classes have ranged from chatty to silent and from totally engaged to permanently distracted in almost every combination! But we've had no real issues with behaviour beyond a few inappropriate posts on the Sorry activity and the Prayer Wall which we quickly, and subtly, removed. On one ocasion I was standing with a group of Year 9 boys who had posted some very disrespectful 'prayers' on the prayer wall and while they were still there I was able to so discreetly remove them that one lad was totally confused when he tried to show his mate his 'prayers', as they'd disappeared! Early on in the week we had one of our mp3 players stolen (it was at the activity when they finished but not when they left). The staff were outstanding in following this up immediately with this class, though the mp3 player was never found.
We've been blessed with great support from local church leaders and friends who have been warm and welcoming to the young people as well as getting totally stuck into running some of the activities. One of the new ones which has worked so well is what we call "Character". Students choose two character cards from a face down set which they then turn over one at a time as a discussion starter about how their life is and how they'd like to develop. (e.g. Joy, Kindness, Strength, Responsibility...) Time and again students turned up a card that exactly matched their situation resulting in a conversation that brought insight and clarity to them.
My colleague Amy and I watched one girl leaving the Identity activity with the biggest smile you've ever seen on her face, declaring that it was "really good!" "Really good" doesn't begin to describe the boost to her confidence the activity had inspired - you had to see that smile.
We've had the usual crop of heartbreaking glimpses of tragic home lives and relationships through the Sorry activity (the example below continues on the other side) and the Prayer Wall. And it was wonderful to see Japan literally covered in prayer.
I was talking to a group of girls at the Prayer Wall when one of them showed me her prayer, for her dad who has arthritis and is in constant pain. I'd love to have prayed with her for her dad there and then, but this wouldn't have been appropriate. Instead I said to her, "In that case my prayer is that your prayer will be answered." She seemed incredibly grateful.
There have also been some wonderful thank you's posted on the very overcrowded "thankful" activity.
The response from staff, in particular the senior staff, has been wonderful, not least because Sanctum has followed immediately after the Beloved course here this term. Inevitably conversation turns to other ways we could be involved, bringing into the life of the school and its students the blend of therapeutc benefit and spiritual development that Sanctum embodies in a more regular and sustainable way. As ever, I have a mixture of new insights and unanswered questions about how we continue to develop Sanctum. However, after what I thought might be a difficult week turned out to be glorious, I'm looking forward to the next three in the summer term.