March 2017

This month I thought I would give a little insight into my role as a school chaplain. At the end of February, the Rev Alan Telfer and myself, together with Hamilton Presbytery’s church and schools development worker (assisted by a student youth worker) spent a couple of days in Strathaven Academy helping to create a reflective space for first year pupils.

This was a new venture for us in Strathaven but one that has been successful in various parts of the Presbytery. The aim was to make religious observance a more pupil centred experience by providing a reflective space which offers a place for spiritual development. The pupils were given the opportunity to consider 8 characteristics of a spiritually “well” person: hopeful, compassionate, yourself, questioning, forgiving, remembering, thankful and free. A large room was divided in eight zones which the pupils rotated around. These zones were:

1. Hopeful: Pupils carved their hopes for life onto the “scratch cards” which were then stuck onto boards around the area.
2. Compassionate: Images of compassion from around the world were scattered in this space with a definition of compassion and some quotes about compassion. A craft tree was placed in the centre with gift tags available. Pupils were invited to write their hopes, dreams, or prayers on the tags for people they are aware of who need compassion.
3. Yourself: Pupils were invited to look at themselves and read positive words about themselves. They then made a finger print and stuck the print on a large (four foot tall) cardboard hand and wrote their name under it.
4. Questioning: Pupils were invited to write big questions of life, God, etc on cardboard and then peg it onto string that was hanging from a large garden umbrella.
5. Free: Pupils watched a PowerPoint of images from around the world where people are suffering injustice. As they watched this they took a strip of black card and a gold or silver pen and wrote something on the card that would bring justice and freedom to the situations they were watching. The chains were stapled together to form a paper chain.
6. Forgiveness: Pupils took an effervescent Vitamin C tablet and as they placed it in water they were encouraged to think about someone they wanted to forgive, or something they wanted to be forgiven for. As they watched the tablet disappear they were encouraged to imagine the hurts and anger disappearing inside them as they forgive or receive forgiveness.
7. Remembering: Pupils were invited to take a post-it note and write on it someone they remember and why e.g. for their laughter, kindness etc. and stick them on to a board. Sunflower seeds in little envelopes were also available for them to take away and plant them somewhere. They were asked to reflect as they watch the plant grow and to think of the person that they remembered.
8. Thankful: Each person takes a piece of bunting and decorates it and writes on something or someone they are thankful for. The individual pieces of bunting were then added to each other to create a large “thankfulness” bunting.

The role of the school chaplain has changed considerably over the years and care has to be taken to ensure that religious observance is inclusive for all faiths and none. This reflective space ensured that all pupils who participated could reflect in a way that was meaningful for themselves. Those two days spent in the Academy were challenging yet very rewarding as it was wonderful to see so many pupils participating in such a positive way.

With every good wish,
Shaw J Paterson

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