Spaces of Sanctuary
Amie Aitken is a musician, speaker, schools worker, and children and families worker at her local Church. Through her schools work she recognised the need for spaces of sanctuary particularly for young girls, and since set up Sanctuary. Here she shares why our students need spaces of sanctuary and what that might look like
A couple of months ago I sat down one night to read the results of two youth work research surveys. Those reports were ‘The Girls Attitude Survey’ published by Girlguiding UK , and ‘Losing Heart’ published by Youthscape. The results in many ways were not surprising but still sobering. A couple of headlines in particular caught my attention:
1. 69% of girls age 7-21 feel like they are not good enough. (The Girls Attitude Survey)
The high percentage alone staggered me but when I circled back to look at the survey age band, the numbers shocked me more. Seven years old? Those kids are in junior primary school. They are too young for social media. They are in the early stages of testing their strengths, their gifts and their passions. They have their whole lives to pursue their greatest potential. How is it possible that our seven year old girls already sense that they are not good enough?
2. 47% of girls aged 11-21 say that the way they look holds them back most of the time, and 61% have experienced people criticising their bodies.
The links between these statistics and the previous one are obvious but no less devastating. I see it in our schools all the time. Girls can be so focused on avoiding criticism that they refuse to participate in activities that they perceive could make them look unattractive or draw attention to parts of their bodies that they are uncomfortable with. We are seeing girls hold back their God-given potential and that should concern us greatly.
3. The majority of churches are failing to talk to young people about the topics they want to discuss, including basic Christian beliefs, sex and relationships and mental health. (Losing Heart)
Which begs the question, what are they talking about? How can we help young people develop deeply rooted faith if we don’t help them to engage theologically and spiritually with the world around them?
The publication of these results was crucially timed. For the past six months my colleagues and I have been preparing for our first national conference for teen girls, Sanctuary. I believe (from conversations with young people) there is a perception that faith is irrelevant because it doesn’t intersect with ‘real life’ issues like social media and mental health. I know from the published reports that church or youth leaders are struggling to lead discussions on these topics because they do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable or equipped. I understand that, I really do.
When it came to planning Sanctuary I knew we had a responsibility to respond to the research accordingly and we had some brave choices to make. We could play it safe and stick to the crowd-pleasing topics that would avoid any drastic problems, or we could lead by example and develop an event that seeks to enable youth leaders and young people to tackle the more difficult topics in a sensitive and informed way. In order to honour the young people we work with, we have chosen the less safe option.
The three main sessions at our conference will tackle sex and relationships, social media and mental health. Will we will look at each subject in general to help develop a more informed awareness, then dig deeper into a faith perspective to help our young people begin to grasp the heart of God where all these things are concerned. Although we cannot cover everything in great depth, we want to help create a culture that is open to talking about uncomfortable things to help bridge the perceived gaps between biblical faith and the less talked-about realities of teen life.
Crucially, Sanctuary began through our local schools work. We recognised the need for girls to have time to shut the door on the noise of the outside world for a while. They weren’t seeking more exciting alternatives to the noise of the world but a safe place to process their experiences and prepare themselves for the next step. In the process of developing our Sanctuary conference I came across a beautiful quote (origin unknown) that summed up the essence of our mission:
“We’re longing for Sanctuary from the relentless noise of outside world – not a way to
out-noise the world with louder, Christian noise.”
I believe that our kids are not looking for hyped up all-singing-all-dancing events all of the time. Sometimes they are looking for honesty, clarity and hope. They are looking for someone to trust with their story and a sanctuary to lay down their burdens for a while. I pray that we could be that place, even just for a day, for those who need it most.
What does that sanctuary look like in your school? Where could your students find that honesty, clarity and hope in school?
For more info visit sanctuarygirls.org
The Girls Attitude Survey: https://www.youthscape.co.uk/r...
Losing Heart: https://www.youthscape.co.uk/r...