Schools: R.E. Worship and Prayer Day

After we had made the decision to hold a whole school Religious Education day, our first question was what theme should we choose.

As the older children in Key Stage 2 (7 - 11 year olds) had been studying units on Christian worship and prayer, this seemed a good place to start.

Five different areas were offered:
Worship Spaces; Different ways of praying: a variety of prayer activities on the theme of journeying; Symbols for worship; Prayer: exploring confession and intercession; Music in Worship.

The day began with a brief introduction in the school hall before the children were organised into five groups with about 30 children in each group.

Each group included children across the seven different year groups.

The groups rotated around the different areas and spent about 45 minutes in each area.

The day was brought together with a final act of worship in the school hall.

1 Worship Spaces

The leader told the Godly Play story of the Ark and the tent.

The commandments were considered so precious that they were written on tablets of stone and placed in a special box, the ark of the covenant.

The people believed that the ark was a sign of God's presence.

But how do you get ready to come close to God?

As part of the preparation to come close to the ark of the covenant, God told the Israelites to place an incense burner in front of the ark. To one side there would be the table of unleavened bread and to the other the menorah, the seven branched candlestick.

The tent of meeting was built around the ark and a special place at one end, the Holy of Holies was set aside for it. Only the priests, ritually cleansed and having performed the sacrifices were permitted to enter the Holy of Holies.

As a response to this story the children were asked to create a worship space using the materials provided.

These included different coloured cloths, including gold, bronze and purple.

The sand tray, stones, wooden blocks and lego were available as were a variety of symbols - candles, wooden flame, rainbow, cross, dove, wooden wave, crowns and stars.

There was also the choice of drawing and colouring.

2 Different ways of praying

This area was focussed on the theme of journeying and was approached from three different angles: Looking at me; How I travel; People I meet on the way.

Looking at me:

The children were provided with mirrors and encouraged to look at their reflection and draw a picture of themselves, reflecting on the verse from Psalm 139 "I am fearfully and wonderfully made..."

We also provided a bucket of water and emoticon pebbles showing a range of feelings: lonely, sad, angry and blank for children to choose their own emotion.

"Sometimes people do things that make us feel sad or angry or frightened. You may like to think about a time this happened to you." The children were encouraged to choose an emoticon pebble and put it in the water as a sign of moving on...

A third activity looked at how we all do wrong things but we can choose to forgive ourselves. The children were invited to draw a spot on their hands with washable felt tip and then wash it off as a symbol of forgiving ourselves.

How I travel:

The children took off socks and shoes and were invited to make footprints in the tray of sand. They were then asked to choose a paper footprint to express the kind of footprint that they had made: kind, loving, sad, angry.

Most children chose positive feelings but some chose angry (and were reassured that these feelings were ok, sometimes we need to leave an angry footprint.)

The children were also given mazes and pens and asked to think about how we choose which way to go through life.

We also provided maps, compasses and magnets and asked the children to reflect on what pulls us the wrong way.

People I meet on the way:

The outline of a person was drawn on lining paper.

The children were given plasters on which to write the name of (or draw) someone who was ill and stick on the appropriate part of the person.

The final activity was about thinking of people around the world.

The children were given post it notes on which to write or draw prayers and thoughts for people in different parts of the world.

3 Symbols for Worship

We wanted the children to make something they could take away that symbolised an element of worship.

For the first activity they were given two sticks to make into a cross shape. They were then invited to wrap different coloured wool around the cross.

The second activity involved decorating candles with wax crayons. The children crayoned onto greaseproof paper, which was then wrapped around the candle and blasted with a hair dryer to melt the wax on to the candle.

While the cross and wool activity worked very well the candles did not work in classroom setting, although they had at home!

We suspected that the children were trying to draw too detailed a pattern and were not putting enough wax on the greaseproof paper.

4 Prayer: Exploring confession and intercession

"We live in a beautiful world but it isn't perfect...

I wonder what is wrong?

Is there anything that you would like to see changed?" (The children suggested war, bullying, lying, illness etc) (The words were written on acetate)

"I wonder why there are wrong things in the world? (People's actions, personal responsibility) This is something I want you to be absolutely clear about. There are things that seem destructive that are not anybody's fault. Things like earthquakes and people being ill are not anyone's fault. Some things that we do are accidents. And there are some things that are the fault of people but are not your fault.

It isn't your fault if people fight wars or let people go hungry. You are children. It isn't your responsibility.

This is about choices. We can choose to say something that is kind. Or we can choose to say something that will hurt someone. We can choose to share things with other people or keep everything for ourselves. We can choose to tell the truth or tell lies.

Christians believe that when we are sorry for the things we ourselves have done wrong we can be forgiven. Everyone, children and adults, does wrong things.

Nobody is perfect. Everyone makes wrong choices sometimes. But we can all start again."

We then had a moment of silence when children were given the opportunity to say sorry for something they had said or done. The leader said a short prayer and the children could say or sign "Amen."

"As a symbol of being forgiven we are going to place the words for making the wrong choices in this bowl and add water to wash away all the wrong things." (The acetate words were placed in the water and swished around. When they were lifted out they were clean.

"Saying sorry and being forgiven is important. But we may need to say sorry to the person we have hurt. We may also want to do something to help people who are caught up in the big things that are wrong - war, hunger, illness."

We put out a selection of pictures illustrating the world's problems: sickness, war, refugees, hunger, pollution for the children to choose one. We asked them to write a thought or a prayer about their picture. As we had a mixed age range from 4 year olds to 11 year olds we were careful in our choice of pictures - the theme was clear but the pictures themselves were not disturbing to small children.

5 Music in worship

We wanted to introduce the children to worship songs that could be used in collective worship, with a special focus on songs that included movement.

We used the songs "God's love is bigger than a burger" and "High Five" from the CD "Chuffed" by Doug Horley.

We did not have enough volunteers for this session, so it was led by staff accompanying the groups.

Closing Worship

The school came back together for a short time of worship. The songs were sung and some of the prayers were read out.

How well did it work?

The children were extremely responsive. The good relationships between the older and younger children is a feature of this school and on this occasion the older children drew the younger ones into the activities.

The children's behaviour was exemplary throughout the day, in part because the theme of the day ensured even less academic children could contribute meaningfully.

The staff who accompanied the children were very positive about the children's engagement with the activities.

When designing worship spaces there were several mixed age range groups working together to create something with the cloths, the blocks or the lego.

There was a wide range of responses from children drawing, or working at miniature level with the lego, to those who created a hidden quiet space by using cloths and tables.

The children responded well to the variety of prayer activities on the theme of journeying and the opportunity to think about their own feelings.

When the leader began the session on confession with: "We live in a beautiful world but it isn't perfect..." one 11 year old responded with: "It would be really boring if it was perfect."

This led to an interesting discussion on how an imperfect world gives people the opportunity to be creative.

The prayer writing was often simply expressed but heart felt:

"Dear God, please love prisoners just as much as you love everyone else."

"Dear God, please stop people shouting in there ear. Amen"

"Dear God please help children that is in the streets without adults. Amen."

"Dear God please help us feed the poor people and give them a better life..."

Several of the staff had said that they did not feel confident during class prayer times. To encourage them each class was given a book containing a range of prayers that had been written by the children during the day.

The class book contained prayers by children of all ages, not just the children in that class.

As a follow up each class has a thank you jar and a sorry box. See here

The staff commented that the worship songs were too short for the 45 minute time slot; another time we would think about doing this differently and including other activities.

We would also look at offering a variety of symbols for worship for the children to make!

We would also think about including something from each area for the closing worship. The last group taking part in Worship Spaces could have been asked to create something in the school hall. We could have kept some wool crosses and brought in either the outline figure or the world map in order to use some of those prayers.

Sarah, with Clare Reed (RE co-ordinator), Rowena Berridge and Ali Booth