The St Edward’s Church prayer team, Hearts and Hands, committed to pray for the children, the parents and families in High Flyers, our baby and toddler group, and also for our group’s leaders and volunteers during June this year.
To help encourage new people along, our leadership team agreed that attendance for the month should be free. We advertised this through Facebook and a leaflet in local homes. As preparations evolved, we also decided that we should try to take some prayer activities into the group. Up until this point, we’d had no specific or explicit Christian focus, so a gentle and sensitive approach was necessary as we’d be catering for largely unchurched families from the local neighbourhood.
Borrowing resources from Diocese House, we created a designated quiet space by filling a large inflatable dome with visual images and sensory resources which were very accessible to young children. Parents responded positively about the dome from the very first week. They praised its atmosphere, saying it was “so cool”, “so quiet”, “chilled out” and “relaxing”.
We also offered creative activities outside the dome. There was a sand tray with a Footprints in the Sand poem stuck next to it, a craft station for making wind chimes to promote the importance of listening, painting with natural materials to encourage children to think about and be thankful for creation, and a church that they could make out of an envelope and fill with lollypop stick people.
Parents seemed to respond well to the sensory activities, saying that there was lots to do and that they were enjoyed by their children. They also seemed to like the theme of thankfulness, saying it was a topic that their children could benefit from learning.
One week, the group joined the Hearts and Hands team in the church for a song, a small explanation of the prayer team’s work and a thank you prayer. We noticed a significant drop in numbers attending that week and reflected that families might have been apprehensive about the stronger church focus.
At every session, after our usual singing time together, we would say a simple prayer. Even in the first week, the children were very quiet and still – one parent commented on this phenomenon! Each week, parents really tried to help their child respect the five-second prayer. Some children held hands, bowed their head or shut their eyes. We didn’t dictate a ‘correct’ way to pray, but offered suggestions. We also gave each child a prayer activity pack containing a craft, some biscuits and sweets and a prayer folder about family that they could make at home.
We had some activity packs left over, so we decided to deliver these to baptism families who do not attend the group. One parent posted her sincere gratitude for the pack on Facebook, saying that it helped her feel part of the community. Some parents whose children were now at school also seemed genuinely pleased that their child had been remembered.
At the end of the month, one parent wrote that the theme of prayer had made her think about some issues in her own life. Another said that she was not religious and felt that the focus had been too strong, but also listed the prayer pack as something that made an impression and that she’d like to see repeated!
Without a doubt, the strongest feedback from parents was about the quiet, calm and soothing nature of the prayer dome. Whilst we may not have produced any ardent new prayer warriors, it does seem that the activities made an impression, and both children and parents responded to the environment of prayer with stillness and peace.