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Church schools in Oxford adopt ancient Christian meditation to help mental health

by Donna Birrell

Ancient Christian meditation practices are to be adopted in church schools in the Thames Valley to help tackle a growing mental health crisis 

The Diocese of Oxford has put together a toolkit founded on ancient practices of meditation and prayer that have healed Christians for centuries.  

It’s hoped a time of daily contemplation and reflection away from the pressures of social media, school and society will be adopted regularly by pupils and teachers across the region.  

The Diocese says the Space Makers Contemplative Toolkit has been developed to counter the increase in digital screen, technology and social media use which is placing young people in danger of becoming less connected with their families and communities, as well as leading to increased mental health issues as self-worth is continually measured against the popularity of online profiles.

It comes as The Children’s Society recently reported that children are becoming more unhappy, with 12% of children having low well-being and a quarter of a million struggling with their mental health as a result of the pandemic.

The toolkit includes a 10-minute period of contemplation and self-reflection in daily school life. It’s already been piloted in several schools and found to have a beneficial effect on the wellbeing, flourishing and mental health of pupils and staff. 

It focuses on five key practices, one for each day of the school week, of Stilling, Noticing, Dwelling, Mending and Blessing. These practices include the use of a simplified form of Ignatian and Examen spiritual practices and explore: 

•    becoming aware of one’s surroundings and oneself, 
•    recognising the absence and presence of faith hope and love in different moments of life,
•    listening and finding meaning in the words of the Bible, 
•    seeking the forgiving and healing of oneself and others, 
•    discerning how oneself can be a blessing to others 

The Right Reverend Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, said: 

“I am pleased that we have created a practical and easy to use toolkit that will enable young people in our schools to explore self-reflection and contemplation and to understand the importance of looking after their mental health.  

“All children and young people should flourish mutually as God intended, know that they are loved, and have the opportunity to learn spiritual practice in a familiar and comfortable environment. 

“It is our hope that schools across the Diocese will adopt regular contemplation practice and encourage young people to develop healthy habits for the future to help them find peace, hope and fulfilment in life.” 

The Reverend Charlie Kerr, School Chaplaincy Adviser, Diocese of Oxford: 

“I am excited to see the transformation Space Makers can create for pupils and staff in our schools. The growing pressures on young people and the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the nation demonstrate a need for better understanding of and support for mental health.

“Valuing and caring for children and young people is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Providing space and time for contemplation and self-reflection is just one of the many ways we can nurture the next generation.”

Ailsa Tooling, Year 6 Teacher at Goring CE Primary School, shares how Space Makers helps her pupils navigate the world around them:
“When the whole of education sometimes seems to be about targets and results and pressure, Space Makers gives students the chance just to be, rather than do. 

“I feel that the children leaving Goring CE Primary school, through this experience, are more whole. We’ve given them techniques they can use for life. These children are better prepared for what’s coming next.”

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