Wednesday, July 10, 2013

thirteen thousand

13,000 children and young people.

It's an approximate number, but give or take a few, that's how many pupils I've met through running an Orison prayer space in the past 4 years.

13,000 pupils over 124 days in 36 schools, of which 13 were secondary, the rest primary. By my estimations, it's been about 8000 students in secondary schools and just over 5000 primary school pupils. An exciting journey - one which has taken me all over the country, from Cheddar to Knaresborough, Worthing to Blackburn, Eastbourne to Preston, Guildford, Farnham, Leeds, Bradford, Worcester, London and plenty more places besides, clocking up thousands of miles on hired vans, filling up tanks with more diesel than we'd care to admit, loading and unloading bubble tubes, post-it notes and all sorts of kit between garages, vans, storage units, schools and churches.

And today it ends. For me anyway. After four years and three months I'm hanging up my fairy lights and sticking my last post-it and leaving the Orison team. It's nothing dramatic. Simply that I feel it's time for me to move on. I've been involved with getting this project started, invested plenty into it and developed and grown it as far as I think I can. Time for me to get out of the way and let someone else shape it from here. I'm far more a pioneer than a settler, so always better at the beginning of a project than the middle or the end and so in that context it's time for something new for me.

Orison will continue though, still under the fantastic umbrella of the Grassroots Trust, where Hugo will oversee it and Jon and probably one or two others will be involved in the delivery in schools.

I don't know yet what I'll be doing next. Watch this space for that! But I do know that I'm extremely grateful for an amazing four years.

- for the opportunity to be involved with faith and education in this way
- for the space to be creative
- for a way to use and develop my skills as a teacher having left the classroom environment
- for conversations with many of the 13,000 children and young people as they explored
- for some moving, challenging, deep, painful, hilarious, personal and amazing stories
- for a great team of people who've been supportive, creative and all sorts of other things along the journey

It started in 2008, when Hugo took the bubble tube and one of the dome tents to a school in Farnham to open a prayer space on the school fields at lunchtime - pupils queued to get in, writing their post-it-prayers on the way in so they could stick them on the bubble tube and spend five minutes sitting on the bean bags reflecting. Five minutes was the limit though, with such a large queue at the door and pupils left to rejoin the line straight away to come and experience it again.

Via a flight to India and a few conversations with a headteacher in Addlestone, I joined the team in May 2009 when we took the bubble tube and a school-hall-full of other prayer activities into a high school for five days, hastily giving it a name and writing curriculum-related lesson plans on the way. What an amazing week! Despite all the challenges and criticisms the Christian faith faces in the educational world, here, we'd been allowed to teach about prayer using interactive and experiential resources. Looking back, my blog post at the time was underwhelmingly practical compared to how exciting it was!

It's grown and developed and changed since then, as all the best resources do - lesson plans for primary and secondary schools, new resources tackling various themes, old resources retired when they're no longer effective, new video material developed for the plenary session in high schools and the wording of the introduction and conclusion discussed, refined and changed to maintain an integrity with what we believe and with our commitment to being an appropriate educational resource in a multifaith environment.

And of course there's been stories, some of them already shared on this blog.

From March 2011 in Leeds:
Are you real, because I don't knowAt another school, we met A. About 8 or 9 years old, A came to Orison with lots of questions about whether or not God exists, writing "Are you real God, because I don't know" on a post it note on the bubble tube, and "Why can't we see God?" on a big piece of paper on the floor full of questions for God. A also wrote her name on a big poster of a hand that we use for students to remind themselves that God knows who they are, if they want to. It seemed quite significant to see her name written there, surrounded by questions around the room about whether or not God (the one with the hands...) might even be real.

From May 2012 in Blackburn:
Orison created more than just prayer spaces in the school. It brought with it an air of excitement which spread like wildfire. The children were enthused, visitors were awed.
Busy parents rushed in for a quick look and were mesmerised by how spiritually aware their children can be, when given the opportunity.
It was exhilarating to witness an entire school community excited about ‘talking to God’. Orison, in our experience was a God-send. As a school we feel blessed that we managed, even for a short time, to capture something so indefinably powerful. Orison was a crucial part of an experience that allowed us to truly feel God’s presence amongst us.
Mumtaj Jolly (RE Co-ordinator)
St. James’ CEP Blackburn

The teacher in Farnham in 2010 who's highlight of the day was one of her nursery pupils telling her he wanted to write a prayer for his mum. We didn't realise at the time that it was the first time he'd ever spoken aloud.

Or a particularly moving conversation with a teenage girl over a sand tray in Chertsey in 2009, after she'd written UGLY as a word to describe herself. She wasn't. Really wasn't. After some time, she was finally able to wipe the word away with her hand but struggled to come up with anything to replace it except for "OK. I just want people to think I'm OK."

Even this week in Hammersmith I overheard a girl sat by the bubble tube telling a friend about how she'd prayed for her cousin not to have spots any more and they'd gone away and never returned. Obviously there are many details about that story that we'll never know, but it was encouraging to hear her speak positively about prayer and at the end of that lesson, instead of hearing an answered prayer story from one of the team members, the year 2 class heard from one of their classmates that God does indeed listen, and he cares and he acts. Powerful stuff.

And each moment like these with a young person is a privilege - a glimpse of what life is like for them and their peers. But it's also a reminder that these moments are the tip of a huge iceberg. Much of what happens in Orison is internal, private. That's as it should be and it's exciting to think of all that is going on in the pupils we've met - stories and thought processes and decisions being made that we'll never know about.
But God does...

1 comment:

  1. That's so fantastic!!! I'm only sorry we didn't get to book orison while you were there. God has blessed you with the amazing ability to start and develop initiatives that really make a difference!!!



Sometimes I do go on...