Prayer Stations are not just for children and youth, they can be something for people of any age. They give freedom to explore, to reflect and to experience worship or a biblical story in a different way. Bev Barsley, a Reader from St. Luke’s Church, Matfield, explains how she has used them with older people and with school children.
When planning for Holy Week, I was keen to use my creative skills to do something different and from that desire came In the footsteps of Christ by Candlelight. I created a service where the congregation go on a journey around the church stopping at prayer stations to hear a reading and a prayer. Providing well thought out questions for reflection can also add another dimension to the experience. The idea is not unlike the traditional Stations of The Cross that are part of the worship in some churches in Holy Week but it gives an opportunity for more tactile engagement with features of the story. These prayer stations can be adapted to any group of people and they can be used for a formal service or for a more relaxed experience allowing people space to explore for themselves.
For the more formal service, each member of the group is given a candle and they journey around the church for about 30 minutes. They are invited to look and meditate at each of the nine stations, each reminding us of an important event in the last few days of the earthly life of Jesus. I encourage everyone to pick up and touch anything in the displays.
At each station I read an appropriate Gospel passage and before we move onto the next station there is a prayer. At the end there is time to sit for quiet reflection and people are encouraged to revisit the stations which spoke to them the most.
The creative displays I use are: –
DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME – A table is set up with a kitchen tablecloth. A crusty harvest loaf of bread with a slice out of it lies on the table. There are two candles, a wooden bowl, a couple of pottery cups, a bowl of fruit and a clay water pitcher. It looks like a table that Jesus would have reclined around with his disciples on his last night with them.
JESUS PRAYS -The next station involves a cloth, a lantern and a candle to depict where the disciples are sleeping. There is also some brown cloth and large stones, a log and some greenery to symbolise the Garden of Gethsemane.
JUDAS BETRAYS JESUS – There is a candle, a rope made into a noose, and replica Roman coins. I also include current news articles about conflict in the world as an aid to prayer and reflection.
JESUS IS MOCKED – There is a purple fabric on a table and a crown of thorns I made from the hedgerow. I also made a whip from a willow branch.
PETER DENIES KNOWING JESUS – I use a pottery cockerel which belongs to a friend, a pile of logs and twigs making up the fire which Peter sat around to warm himself. I use a pottery oil lamp and some night lights around the fire.
PILATE WASHES HIS HANDS – This display uses a simple pottery jug and bowl and a plain cloth and candle to show how Pilate washed his hands of Jesus and passed him on to others to deal with.
JESUS IS CRUCIFIED – The cross lies on the ground in front of the altar with a pile of old rusty nails and a hammer. There is a sponge on a stick. I also use a painting of Jesus hanging from the cross. There are no lights on in the chancel, so this area is dark which helps portray the sadness.
JESUS DIES AND THE TEMPLE CURTAIN IS TORN IN TWO – I use two large pieces of tapestry cloth which I have cut in two. It is old-looking and frayed at the edges. It is set up in the vestry away from the main body of the church.
JESUS IS PLACED IN THE TOMB – The congregation are taken into the choir vestry where on the window ledge, I portray the body of Jesus wrapped up in white sheet. It is lit by candles. This is a particularly stark and moving display and can be very powerful. I also have the Bible reading of the Resurrection of Jesus on display as I feel this is a reminder that Good Friday is just part of the story of Redemption and Salvation and that hope is something I want everyone to take away with them from the experience.
The candlelit journey is something I do with adults but we have done these prayer stations with the local school at Lamberhurst. We moved the stations to St. Mary’s Church and invited the school to stagger their class visits so each could spend 30-40 minutes in the space. We set the tone by playing Taizé or choral music in the background on arrival and we noticed that at once the children responded to the mood and they were incredibly respectful.
We went round with the class to each prayer station and talked about what they could see and what the story was behind each one. They were invited to pick up and touch everything in the displays and find somewhere where they wanted to sit down and think about the story of Holy Week. There was also an opportunity for them to ask questions and come and talk with us about what they had seen and experienced. We then had a short prayer together and moved onto the next station. The children were really interested in seeing the displays. With a particularly sensitive member of one of the classes, we did have to point out that the body of Jesus wrapped up in a sheet was in fact some hassocks piled up and not a real body, but it illustrated how seriously the children embraced the experience.
These displays can be done in any church, school or hall. It doesn’t have to be a large space and both St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s have fixed pews so it can be put together in a traditional church. These prayer stations can be an opportunity to invite community members into the church for Holy Week. It’s a time to reflect on and experience this amazing story in a visual and creative way. In the case of the school children they will probably never forget it.