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Jun 20

Running a permanent prayer space: the experience of a school chaplain

Posted by Becky in secondary

Ruth Scott, Chaplain at a Surrey School, approached Orison at the beginning of the academic year while she was preparing to set up a permanent prayer space in the school chapel. She now writes:

My school is a Church of England voluntary-aided comprehensive. When I became Chaplain I learnt very quickly that despite the faith basis of the school the majority of my students had little interest in formal religious expression. After Year 7 even those who attend a place of worship generally prefer that affiliation to be kept private.

Does this mean my students aren’t interested in questions about what it is to be human and to live in today’s world? Far from it! They are full of questions. While traditional religious services hold little attraction for them they value symbols and rituals specifically geared to their needs and understanding. This is where Orison has been such a help.

Last September we opened our new Chapel – a classroom-size room specifically set aside to be a prayer space. We inherited an altar, priest’s chair, and one or two other bits of furniture. Thankfully these are lovely and fit the space beautifully. We bought floor cushions from a design centre. Year 10 design technology students had a competition to create a set of 3 stained glass windows. Five patterns were short-listed and every class voted for their favourite. Textiles students made an altar frontal with the help of one of our Sikh learning support assistants. Into this space we brought a 2m high bubble tube which the students love. We also have an identity zone and a sorry zone. We have Orison’s laminated hand on the wall which I clean off every Friday. By the end of Monday it is full again. In front of the altar we have a graffiti board. Each week I put a new question or drawing challenge by the board and in response my students have come up with some really colourful and thoughtful responses.

We have an audio-visual system so there is often gentle music playing in the background. I also have a ‘tree of life’. When the students have lessons in the Chapel one activity is for them to decorate a cardboard leaf to represent who they are and to hang it on the tree, reminding them of their uniqueness and the fact that they belong to a community and are not alone.

The students love the space. They want to be in it. They’ve been able to develop a positive appreciation of silence in the guided times they spend with me in the Chapel.
In their own time they use all the different zones.

Lest you think you’ve fallen into the world of Pollyanna I should perhaps say we’ve had some problems alongside all the positives. Despite clear rules about no food or mobile phones in the Chapel if the space was left without staff or prefect supervision in the break and lunchtime, by the end of those times food and litter was scattered across the carpet, the felt tips were broken and left, lids off, on the floor, the wicks were pulled out of the oil candles, and names of students who aren’t popular were wiped off the laminated hand. Sometimes inappropriate graffiti appeared on the graffiti board. When staff came into the space unexpectedly they found students on their mobile phones. I felt very disheartened by this behaviour which ran counter to how the students valued and used the space at other times.

After several warnings, much to the consternation of the students, we closed the Chapel at break and lunchtime while we took stock of the situation. I was keen that the Chapel would not become a place associated with negative experience. This half term we have piloted lunchtime activities in the Chapel, run by staff, students, and local church youth workers, and are using a number of resources from Orison and its linked site, Schoolswork.co.uk.

Experimental liturgy has always been one of my loves but, having never worked with teenagers previously I have found Orison’s ideas and resources very helpful and inspirational.


Ruth Scott (School Chaplain)

Christ's School, Richmond