This is a reflection from Peg Riley, Chaplain at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch, about what happened at her school.
ASPiRe began with us trying to help students understand the refugee problem facing the world. It can be difficult for students to come to terms with issues like this. It is hard for them to understand the challenges and problems confronting refugees because they are so far beyond their experience.
The big question was: How can we help students connect and to think about the world beyond their immediate communities?
We used the news coverage, explained the surrounding issues and asked students questions about what they thought or understood. This began to create connections with the issues. We spoke about the refugees in class, in chapel and just walking around campus. We were beginning to hold the refugees in our thoughts and prayers.
Then a great idea emerged; to provide an opportunity for the students and the community to demonstrate their understanding and in some way to feel involved in supporting refugees. ASPiRe – a national prayer vigil was born. ASPiRe stands for Anglican Schools Praying for Refugees.
The idea was for schools to take one hour and to hold the prayers and energy for all of us for that time.
The idea was for schools to take one hour and to hold the prayers and energy for all of us for that time. At the end of their hour each school would pass on the flame of prayer to the next school. For our students this was a new concept but through discussion in chapel services, the idea and prayerful power was outlined, and … it caught on. The power behind its success was that the students took ownership in making it happen. The students said it was the adults’ passion that caught their interest, and made them curious to look further.
Even though other schools were praying, our own school was determined to carry through the entire 24 hours, and so, with support from the Director of Boarding, we set up a room that was warm and inviting.
The Vigil began at 3pm on Thursday. Only two students were able to join me at the beginning. The activities, along with the prayers, were to either make a card for a person that would be delivered personally to a refugee camp and/or create a link in the prayer chain. The strips were already cut in many colours of paper, and the student could add words, inspirations and their prayer, and decorate the link.
We were beginning to hold the refugees in our thoughts and prayer.
Within the school community the changing of the hours was marked by a prayer, and followed up with photos from and to the ASPiRe Facebook page. At 4pm, we held the Litany for refugees, and had nine students read and light candles. At that point we relocated from the Chapel to the Boarding House, where we continued through the night. There was no formal roster of volunteers, the students had offered and worked it out between themselves. Students in Years 7 – 10 were allowed to come across the quad until 8pm. Seniors in Years 11 – 13 took their turn through the night. Rooms of three to four seniors woke together to come down for the hour.
Early in the morning there was an influx of 15 students, some who had come back to do another link, or to share their thoughts with new students to the vigil. A precious memory is of a student who woke at 4am, just as it looked as if there would be only me, and we shared the hour in quiet thoughts, writing cards and creating prayer links.
At 7:30, we carried our candle and the cards and prayer chain links back to the Chapel to continue through the rest of the day. Students through the day didn’t always stay through the hour, some stopped by between classes, or at their study or break time. Staff also came and joined the students in prayer and writing.
One of the key questions we discussed throughout the process was: Where is God in this? And very often it came back from the students: We are God’s hands and voice and feet. While it is true that they have heard this over and over from me, it feels like a blessing when they say it back to me!Their voice, their words, prayers, letters and support- are God’s voice too.
In the following week news reached us that the prayer links we created arrived at Wellington Cathedral, and were arranged along the wall. The visuals of all the schools joining their thoughts and prayers in that space shows there is the power of individuals joining together to give voice to the prayers for peace, safety, acceptance and support.