Schoolwide Prayer in the Words of "Me"
About this article
School-wide prayer is a hallmark of a faith community. In this article Marge Mostyn describes her approach to morning prayer over the PA system to the whole school. She writes prayers as letters to God, in the voice of a typical (hypothetical) student. She gives an example and tips for writing these prayers. She includes an address for those who wish to send for more prayer samples from the school.
What distinguishes a Catholic school from a public school? The obvious answer is that, at least potentially, a Catholic school is a faith community. Whether it is truly a faith community depends on more than the offering of religion courses, although that is crucial to the Catholic identity of the school. It also depends on the atmosphere of prayer and faith that fills the school, a sense that "all of us are walking together on this life journey with God."
who teaches math at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois, has come upon a way to foster a sense of shared prayer that relates to students' lives. For seven years, she has been offering the daily prayer that is read over the PA system to the whole school. Rather than try to write generic prayers that could apply to everyone, she has chosen to write the prayers as letters to God by a typical (hypothetical) student who experiences the ups and downs of life. Here is Marge's account of how the prayers work.
The prayers are unique to our school, but could easily be adapted to other parochial schools. They begin with "Dear God," and basically talk to God as a friend; they end with the words, "Love, Me." "Me," an average teenager who could have written the prayer, talks of the struggles of being a teenager and tells God his or her frustrations, while often questioning God's ways or "reasoning" in the midst of the struggles. Some of the topics have included the prodigal son, bullies, cold germs, the homecoming dance, elections, counselors, parents' divorce, drinking, and semester exams. Often the prayers play off of a recent event or happening at school, at home, in the local area, or in the national news.
These prayers seem to genuinely touch the students because so many of them have these very issues or events on their mind, and they often feel that these prayers are their own. The prayers help them connect with other students who are having similar experiences.
Our prayer time comes at the end of the second period. After announcing "Good morning, it's prayer time," and pausing for everyone to become quiet, I give the date and then begin. Here is a typical prayer:
Last night, driving home from work in the rain brought back memories of the big puddle on our street. I drove through it remembering all the times I'd try to jump over it as I came home from grade school. When I got home, I sensed something was wrong. It was quiet. My mom and dad have been arguing quite a bit lately, and at first I was somewhat relieved that it was peaceful. My mom was in the kitchen and called me as I walked in the door. I could see she'd been crying. Very softly she said, "Dad and I are getting divorced."
I don't like it, God. Divorce is for other people, not us. I don't want to be part of a statistic. I don't even like the sound of "a broken home." Why can't they get along? They're both nice people when they're not fighting. Can't they just hold on 'til I finish high school? I know that You probably hear this a lot . . . but that's from other kids . . . not me . . . not my family.
I don't know how to handle this and I certainly can't think about school today. The teacher's lips are moving and words are coming out, but I don't hear a thing. Help me, God! Help me understand and help me know if I can make it better. Should it be better? Will it get better? Can I change it?
It's you and me today, God, 'cause I feel all alone.
The prayer is followed by a formal prayer said in unison by everyone, the pledge of allegiance, then announcements.
The following day, "Me" might continue talking to God about this problem or may delve into another subject.
The Dear God prayers seem to have a wonderful effect. They hit certain students who feel they are saying the prayers themselves. One day, the prayer was about a student who stood by and watched another student say hurtful things to a third student. Later, a girl came to me and asked if I had been in the cafeteria when the incident happened. I hadn't; my choice of that theme was simply a coincidence. Another time, a counselor asked me to speak with a girl because my prayer that morning had spoken of exactly what the girl confided to the counselor the day before. The girl was angry, thinking the counselor had told me what she said. I assured her the counselor had broken no confidence. I do write most of the prayers, and the ideas come loosely from students' comments, actions, and reactions.
There is a magic about the prayers. They comfort the student who is struggling with the smallest and largest of problems. They give different perspectives on many issues such as:
- prom (from wanting to go to the cost and the frustration)
- cheerleading tryouts ("Me" doesn't make the squad and questions why)
- awards ("Me" dreams that God comes down and gives "Me" an award at the assembly for the best effort)
- driving and its responsibility ("Me" reads Dear Abby's famous "I'm Only Seventeen" column to God as something "Me's" parents just presented the day "Me" got a driver's license)
- fitting in ("Me" questions whether anyone is happy and what being happy is)
These prayers have built up a sense of empathy and community. No one is left out of the group. It has also given our students a new model of prayer, one that is close to their own life and that encourages them to pray their experiences. Our Dear God prayers seem to be a glue within our school community's life.
These kinds of prayers are best composed from within a school community's own experience, according to the kinds of cultural backgrounds and the unfolding of events in that school. Twenty sample prayers that may give you ideas are available from the Development Office, Providence Catholic High School, 1800 West Lincoln Highway, New Lenox, IL 60451. Please include $5.00 to cover printing and postage.
AcknowledgmentsCopyright © 2009 Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this article to be freely used for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the explicit permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095 or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.
Published October 1, 1994.