Diocese of Portsmouth

    Bishop opens school's Garden of Peace

    22 May 2014

    IT is a quiet outdoor area that staff and children can use for Christian worship and spiritual reflection.

    Bishop Christopher with pupils Charlie Maguire and Sophia Bakhshov

    Bishop Christopher formally opened the Garden of Peace at St John’s CEC Primary School in Rowlands Castle.

    The garden, in the centre of the school playground, includes a seated worship area around which willow trees are being grown. The whole area is entered by a gate, alongside which is a plaque with the words 'Peace be with you. Luke 24:36' carved onto it. It will give pupils and staff the chance to pray and think about God in a natural setting.

    It's just one part of an ambitious Outdoor Learning Area at the school, which will ultimately also include an outdoor amphitheatre, traversing wall and learning hut.

    The bishop visited the school to help lead a special assembly, cut a ribbon to open the Garden of Peace and to say a blessing on those who will use it.

    The assembly included pupils singing the Leonard Cohen classic ‘Hallelujah’, a few words from the bishop, and a question-and-answer session. Among the questions pupils had for Bishop Christopher were ‘Did you think you’d become a bishop when you were young?’ and ‘What kind of things do you bless?’

    Bishop Christopher told the children: “The extra thing you’ll have that other schools don’t have is a Garden of Peace. It’s called that because Jesus said to his friends ‘Peace be with you’. It’s a special place where you can learn to be full of peace, to find space where you don’t have to do anything in particular and just rest and think.

    “If you can learn how to be peaceful here, you can be peaceful, thoughtful and prayerful in other places too, as you go about your daily lives. That’s why we’re dedicating this garden.”

    The bishop also explained to the children the significance of the special clothes he would be wearing for the ceremony as he put them on. He covered several four and five-year-olds in his cope - a special cloak he wears – as an illustration of how God’s love is for all. He showed them his silver cross, which includes rougher bits to remind him of the agony Jesus went through. He also showed them his crozier – or shepherd’s crook – which is a reminder to care for his flock.

    The the whole school went outside and watched the bishop cut the ribbon and pray for those who will use the worship area. Bishop Christopher thanked God for those who thought of the ideas for the whole Outdoor Learning Area, those who had helped raise the money and those who would use the Garden of Peace.

    The Garden of Peace project has been supported spiritually, practically and financially by the local church, St John's, and also by the Anglican Diocese of Portsmouth. The diocese allocated £3,000 from its mission budget towards the £15,000 project.

    The initial impetus to create an Outdoor Learning Area came after Ofsted and church inspection recommendations 3-4 years ago. Since then, fundraising has been planned and conducted by the school fundraising committee led by governor and parent Ruth Butler.

    A new phase of the project has been completed each year. The first phase included new outdoor climbing equipment for the junior school children. The next phase included a woodland path through the trees on the site, which includes a den for each year group, a storytelling tree and a ‘bug hotel’ where creepy crawlies are encouraged.

    The current phase has involved extending the outdoor play area for reception children, a play stage, and the worship circle – now named the Garden of Peace. A willow dome has also been created where small groups can read or spend time in quiet.

    To mark the completion of Phase 2, former British tennis player Chris Wilkinson also visited and played some points with talented tennis prospect Aaron Butcher, age 9, who is in Year 5 at the school.

    Coming soon – in the next academic year - will be a traversing wall, which is being decorated with help from students at Chichester University, an amphitheatre and a learning hut. The entire Outdoor Learning Area project is expected to cost around £60,000.

    For more photos, click here.