There is often a misconception that tactile prayer activities are for young people, that they are a ‘childish’ way of praying, for those who can’t sit quietly, or even that they should not be encouraged.

Across the country, there are varying levels of language comprehension – which often have nothing to do with age! Perhaps English is not the individual’s first language, perhaps they have learning difficulties of some sort, perhaps they use sign language or braille rather than written/spoken English. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

Often a symbol or illustration can cross this barrier, in the same way a gesture might aid comprehension in a conversation. This is a key reason why our churches are surrounded in beautiful stained glass illustrations – “a picture tells a thousand words”..!

Here are two examples:

Each month, at ‘Wonderfully Made’ at St Lawrence’s in South Shields, Makaton signs are used to accompany speech alongside Makaton symbols to explain the activities. This enables those with additional needs to engage easier with the service and crafts.

Last term we spent time in a secondary school in Durham, exploring #PrayerSpaces with the students.
(You can read more about this here: Creating Space For Prayer )

In both of these contexts, the activities are interactive, allowing the individuals to engage with big issues and have a creative way outlet to express their response, to verbalise (or create) their prayer.

Often within church services, we use candles, have icons, gesture in distinct ways and other moments which hold specific meaning, and the same applies within a school context. There are repeated actions which the young people respond to and often recognise without the need for words – the ringing of the bell, the lighting of a candle at the beginning and the end of Collective Worship, even the presence of a teacher at the school gate often creates a flurry of tucking shirts in…

This week St Lawrence’s have invited local primary schools to use their church hall and explore some Prayer Spaces – and they have ensured that students with special needs will have full access to the experience too.

So often, within school, there is a hierarchy of who is the most gifted. Pupils are graded and separated out according to academic ability. Within this, there is a wonderful opportunity for churches to present an environment which is how God sees those individuals – as unique and able to express themselves in relationship with Him, regardless of academic prowess.
Within the relationship we have made with the schools, we can be aware of the physical and learning needs of the young people who will be coming to take part in the prayer activities. We can deliberately create an equal environment, a chance to access everything, to have opportunity to experience, and relate with, God in a multitude of creative ways.

Please contact Rev Paul Childs for more information about St Lawrence’s prayer activities.
For other questions, or further discussion, Rev Bill Braviner is the Diocesan Disability Advisor and Rev Kate Jamie is the Chaplain for the d/Deaf in Durham Diocese.

There are also many wonderful, and inclusive, prayer space ideas on the Prayer Spaces in Schools website. Please pay special attention to the ‘Choosing Prayer Activities’ section for more advice.