Prayer stations (or centers) are a very effective means of helping youth to explore a theme thoughtfully and prayerfully while also attending to their various learning styles and intelligences. The following prayer experiences are adapted from those developed by my colleague, Devoree Crist, as part of our study of Advent this past Sunday.
Each of these prayerful experiences focuses on one of the four themes of Advent. Even if your church doesn't specifically observe Advent, the themes fit just fine in a Christmas focus, as well. You could set these up in one space as stand-alone centers and invite youth to engage them individually and in silence. We chose to set them up in different rooms and move through each as a group with conversation and prayer together.
Text: Luke 2: 1-7 (the birth of Jesus)
Set-up: Sit together in a circle and place a baby doll wrapped in a cloth in the center of the group. Read aloud the text from Luke's gospel. Invite the group to consider how Jesus came into the world as a baby. Ask: "What words would you use to describe a baby? Why do you think it's important that our story begins with Jesus coming into the world as a tiny helpless baby, born to peasants? What does that say about God? How could this be good news for us? Where is the hope in this story?" Next, pass out strips cut from purple construction paper (purple is the liturgical color of Advent, representing royalty) and pens. Invite youth to take one or more strips of paper and, on each, write a prayer of hope for themselves, the world, someone in need, a friend, the church, and so on. As they finish, have the group work together to tape their strips of paper into loops to form a paper chain of hopes. Offer a concluding prayer of hope and move to the next center.
Text: Luke 2: 8-14 (the shepherds)
Set-up: Again, ask the group sit in a circle. Have quiet, peaceful music playing in the background or perhaps a mini fountain trickling water. In the center of the group, place a pitcher of water and a large, clear glass bowl. After a time of silence, read the story of the shepherds and the angels. Invite the group to consider what words come to mind when they think of peace. Ask: What would it take, do you think, for us to have peace on earth? Where are the places that really need peace right now? What relationships are required? How might God be part of bringing that peace through us? Next, invite the group to offer prayers for peace (in the world, in their schools, in their relationships, in their homes) either aloud or in silence. As they pray, invite each youth to pour a small amount of the water from the pitcher into the bowl, representing the way all of our prayers become one in the love of God. Close with a prayer for peace and move to the next center.
Text: Luke 2: 15-20 (the shepherds visit the baby)
Set-up: Gather the group around a table with a variety craft items, including some sort of Styrofoam ball or other simple plain ornament, glue guns, beads, pom poms, markers, and so on. Read the text aloud and invite the youth to consider the joy most parents feel at the birth of a baby and how that joy can be contagious. Ask: Where do you think God finds joy with this world of ours? What are we joyfully thankful for in this season of Advent? Which part of the good news of the gospel, like the shepherds, are we willing to joyfully share with others? Next, allow time for youth to use the craft items to create an ornament that they feel reflects this theme of joy. Close in prayer by inviting each person to share one thing for which they are joyful.
Text: 1 John 4: 7-12, 16 (God is love)
Set-up: Gather around a small artificial Christmas tree (you know -- the Charlie Brown kind). Invite the youth to decorate the tree with the paper chain of hopes, the ornaments they made, and whatever other decorations you might want to have on hand. Point out that the one thing missing from the tree is the gifts underneath. Read the text and ask them to consider the gift of love. Ask: How has God shared the gift of love with us? Who in this world, in our lives, needs that gift more than anything right now? How can we as individuals share that gift? How can we as a group share that gift? This moment might be a good opportunity as a group, if you haven't already done so, to plan a way to reach out to those in need this holiday season. Instead of giving gifts to each other, who might your group join together to help with the gift of love?
Close by gathering around a table of votive candles, inviting each person to light one as they offer a prayer aloud or in silence, inviting God's love to work through them in the days to come.