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The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

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  • Making the Stranger Our Neighbor

    Fr. Tim Gavin, Chaplain
    August 15, 2017

    Prayer BOok and HymnalAs we begin another school year, we may tend to over focus on the context of our positions as Chaplains. We may set goals for our curricula, chapel programs, and pastoral ministries, which paradoxically may distract us in our vocations to serve God. However, I offer one simple focus, which may allow us to follow Christ and the Gospel while fulfilling our roles as chaplains. Let’s focus on making the stranger our neighbor in all that we do. We can accomplish this by seeking out those we don’t know. Many people we don’t know may live in the midst of our community. Fortunately, Jesus provides us an excellent example. 

    Turning to the gospels, Jesus constantly reaches out to people he doesn’t know. In matter of fact he calls 12 people he didn’t know to become his apostles and empowers them. However, my favorite illustration centers on the woman at the well. They are strangers, but he talks to her anyway and asks her for a cup of water. He actually breaks “the rules” in order to do this. In addition, he removes social barriers between male and female, clean and unclean, and Jew and Samaritan by reaching out to her and reassuring her that she had a gift to give to him just as he had a gift to offer her. He creates a level playing field. Most importantly, he empowers her to proclaim the Good News. We as chaplains can do the same with the students, colleagues, and families we serve. We can open communication by being clear of our purpose as ministers of the gospel, by reaffirming the gifts they offer us, and by accepting them for who they are. In other words, we make the stranger our neighbor by joining and empowering them in their faith journey. Surprisingly, we may discover something new about ourselves in the process.

    Also, we don’t need to limit making the stranger our neighbor to our schools. Jesus walks beyond his faith community and serves the gentiles. He demonstrates that he is willing to listen to gentiles. He is open to their critique of him. For example, before he heals the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus believes his ministry is limited to just the people of Israel. However, she informs him that even “the dogs underneath the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She challenges his assertion. He listens and adjusts. As a result, by being open to criticism, he is able to make a stranger a neighbor. Therefore, we may need to go beyond our community and serve the unknown. It may be the street person in a soup line. It may be the grandparent of a student in a hospital bed. It may be a religious leader in another denomination or faith that needs our support. Regardless, we may need to open ourselves to new possibilities as Jesus did and serve the stranger among us. 

    Schools can be data and goal driven. However, as chaplains, we are gospel driven in order to glorify God. In the examples I offered above, we can see that Jesus broke through barriers between male and female, clean and unclean, Jew and gentile. In closing, by making the stranger our neighbor both within and beyond our faith communities, we can live out our vocation in a manner that William Law puts so succinctly, “If we are to follow Christ, then it must be our common way of spending every day.”


    About the Author

    Tim Gavin

    Now Head Chaplain at The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA, Tim directs the spiritual program and offers pastoral care to the community. He also leads the partnership program for St. Marc’s School in Haiti, and has developed a partnership between Episcopal Academy’s fifth grade and the fifth grade at St. James School (Philadelphia). In the past, he has held several positions at Episcopal Academy: Media specialist in the library, Dean of Students, Form Dean, English and religion teacher, and Lower School Chaplain. 

  • St. Benedict Was On to Something

    Ann Mellow
    August 01, 2017
    The first days of school are soon upon us and we all know what that means: handbooks. Employee handbooks, parent handbooks, student handbooks and, yes, even trustee handbooks! These handbooks teach us the rules: what to wear, when to arrive, how to sign in and sign out, and who to tell that we are sick. Yes, it’s time for handbooks, and handbooks mean rules. But anyone who has ever lived in a community with fellow human beings knows that there are rules and then there are customs. Because what really define our schools are not the handbooks and rule books – ... » Read More
  • Summer Reading for the Grown-Ups

    Ann Mellow
    June 01, 2017
    Here are good reads of all kinds, from beach books to professional literature and everything in between. Happy reading from all of us at NAES! Books to Breeze Thorough This Summer: New York Times book critic Janet Maslin suggests some titles. Best Children’s and Young Adult Books of 2016: Publisher’s Weekly has compiled the top 50 titles in picture books, middle years and young adult categories. Nine Graphic Novels Every Grown-Up Should Read: Haven’t read a graphic novel? Here are nine recommendations just for adults, from Reader’s Digest. What to Read This Summer: Dona Orem, President of the National Association of Independent Schools, ... » Read More