Principles of Good Practice for Chapel and Worship in Episcopal Schools


Episcopal schools are created to be communities that honor, celebrate, and worship God as the center of life. Episcopal school worship embodies the conviction that Christian life is lived out and practiced in community; through corporate prayer and thanksgiving we are reconciled and renewed to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Therefore, regardless of school size or the constellation of students served, Episcopal schools are worshipping communities that gather regularly for prayer, reflection, and celebration. Indeed, chapel is at the heart of each school’s Episcopal identity.

Episcopal schools have been established, however, not solely as communities for Christians but as diverse ministries of educational and human formation for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Much as Jesus spoke to all present before him, both followers and non-believers, Episcopal school worship embraces the full breadth of the human family.

Thus, Episcopal schools are called to fulfill two simultaneous commitments: to provide students an authentic experience of Christian worship that is unapologetically and identifiably Anglican; and to welcome, affirm, and support the spiritual development of students of all faiths or no faith at all.

For these reasons, Episcopal school worship is often poorly understood. School constituents of other Christian or non-Christian traditions, as well as those who subscribe to no faith at all, are often unfamiliar with the theology and practices of the Episcopal Church. Clergy and school leaders new to Episcopal schools may struggle to achieve clarity about the appropriate role and structure of chapel at their school. At the same time, church leaders and faithful Episcopalians may not readily perceive the distinctions between congregational worship and school worship.

Principles of Good Practice for Chapel and Worship in Episcopal Schools is intended to:

  • affirm the commitment of Episcopal schools to chapel programs that are creative, inclusive, and draw fully upon the liturgical resources of the Episcopal Church;
  • offer a broad perspective on the goals, purposes, structure, and best practices for Episcopal school chapel and worship;
  • support Episcopal schools in their efforts to develop meaningful, age-appropriate worship that is aligned with each school’s mission and culture and that nurtures the spiritual lives of all members of the school community;
  • help Episcopal schools to engage their larger community in dialogue about the role of chapel and worship; and
  • serve as a useful tool for the school’s assessment of its chapel program, whether undertaken independently or as part of an accreditation process.

What is meant by “chapel” and “worship”?

Simply put, chapel is the means through which the school community comes together for worship, and worship describes what Episcopal schools do in chapel.

Episcopal school chapel takes many forms, from the full liturgy of the Holy Eucharist to celebratory gatherings steeped in school tradition and informal gatherings of song, story, and prayer. It can take place in a variety of settings, such as a church, a cathedral, a school chapel, or a secular space used for sacred purpose. It might be held outside or inside and occur daily, weekly, or monthly.

Regardless of style, structure, or frequency, however, chapel is distinguished from other school gatherings in that:

  • It has a sacred purpose.
  • It unfolds in an intentional and predictable pattern.
  • It has a ritual beginning and ending.
  • It includes prayer, song, the reading of sacred texts, and opportunity for reflection.
  • It is rooted in the Anglican tradition in both structure and approach.
  • It is clearly delineated from other school gatherings.
  • It is scheduled on a regular and predictable basis for children of all ages.

The following principles of good practice highlight the crucial components of a comprehensive, meaningful, and age-appropriate approach to worship and chapel in Episcopal schools.

Herewith are the principles of good practice for chapel and worship in Episcopal schools.

Principles of Good Practice

Chapel builds and embodies community life.

Gathering for chapel is fundamental to what it means to be a student or faculty member at an Episcopal school. Chapel is a reliable and predictable part of school life, and time designated for chapel is honored in the school schedule.
The Prayer Book tradition focuses on liturgy as the work of the full assembly. Therefore, all students and faculty members attend chapel; and chaplains, heads of school, rectors, and others responsible for school worship involve students, faculty and staff, and, where appropriate, other guests in planning, preparing, and leading school worship that is lively, meaningful, and student-centered.

Community worship plays a unique role in binding students of different ages together and building community across the age span of the school. Parents, parishioners, alumni, and other members of the wider community of the school are graciously welcomed.

As the most visible expression of its Episcopal identity, chapel services reflect each school’s particular mission, culture, and liturgical style.

There is no single model of Episcopal school worship. Rather, each school’s worship patterns reflect the school’s particular mission, history, and traditions and often those of the parish or diocese within which it is located.
School traditions are often incorporated into the chapel program such as school prayers and hymns, a specific order of service, opening or closing rituals, particular ways that students and faculty members lead chapel, and unique services that celebrate important moments in the school year and/or in the life of the school community.

At the same time, careful attention is paid to insure that school traditions are woven into the liturgy in ways that respect and enhance the sacred purpose of school worship.

Chapel is clearly distinguished from other school gatherings.

Chapel’s sacred purpose connects those present to the awe, beauty, and mystery of the divine. A respite from the busyness of contemporary life, it offers the opportunity for music, prayer, story, silence, and reflection. Consequently, the purpose and content of chapel services are clearly articulated so as to distinguish them from other school gatherings.

There are guidelines about how consecrated and non-consecrated spaces will be used and about the kinds of activities that are appropriate for chapel services. Appropriate uses of consecrated spaces are honored; when secular spaces are used for worship, visual differences signal sacred purpose. Behavioral expectations for those leading, participating in, and attending chapel are articulated and supported.

Episcopal schools recognize that worship with and for children and adolescents differs significantly from worship with and for adults.

Episcopal school worship is closely attuned to the social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs of the students in attendance. Chaplains, clergy, and lay leaders create an intentional chapel program that moves students forward in their spiritual development as they progress through the school. They work together to insure appropriate use of music, prayer, and scripture.

It is the responsibility of chaplains and others in charge of school worship to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to create and lead age-appropriate chapel programs. They work collaboratively with the faculty to insure that chapel is appropriate in content, length, and structure. In turn, chaplains, rectors, and other clergy educate the school community about human spiritual and moral development across the life span, and about ways that worship can welcome people of all ages.

Chapel is welcoming and inclusive.

Episcopal schools are religiously diverse educational communities and, unlike an Episcopal parish, attendance at worship is mandatory. Therefore, Episcopal schools insure that chapel is a place of genuine hospitality that supports the spiritual growth of all, regardless of faith tradition, even as it explicates the school’s Episcopal roots and heritage.

Episcopal schools offer a model of Christian worship without proselytizing such that each person is free from coercion in his or her religious beliefs.

Chapel makes use of the richness of Episcopal liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer.

Common prayer has been a defining hallmark of the Anglican tradition since the 16th century. The Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982, and other approved resources of the Episcopal Church such as Holy Women, Holy Men guide and inform worship at Episcopal schools. Chapel services incorporate a variety of approaches to Episcopal worship. Schools are encouraged to develop their own supplementary song, prayer, and worship resources that enhance the school’s chapel program.

Episcopal schools recognize that the Eucharist is a central feature of the Episcopal worship tradition.

Whether the service is part of a compulsory chapel program or an occasional or voluntary service that supplements the chapel program, the offering of the Eucharist as an opportunity for worship reflects what Anglicans do principally when they gather together. Care needs to be taken to insure that the Eucharist, if and when offered, is appropriate to the ages of those in attendance and reflects the liturgical practice of the school, parish, or diocese.

The beliefs, practices, and traditions of all faiths are presented with respect and care.

In addition to celebrating Christian feasts and holy days, Episcopal school chapel honors with integrity the diversity within and among the world’s many faiths. Worship is enriched by sacred or secular texts and music from a variety of religious traditions, languages, and cultures. Extraordinary care is taken to prevent misuse, misappropriation, or stereotyping of the beliefs, rituals, or expression of any faiths or denomination, whether Christian or non-Christian.

Chapel addresses moral and ethical concerns.

Chapel helps students to negotiate the territory of childhood and adolescence in forthright ways. It deals honestly with real problems and moral complexities, teaches us something about ourselves, and helps us to discern those universal aspects of human experience. It reinforces the school’s core values and any programs or themes related to community life. Students of all ages are presented with authentic voices and believable models of people of integrity and faith.

Chapel underscores issues of justice and equity.

School worship raises consciousness about social issues and courageously addresses issues of inequity and injustice. It inspires individual and collective action in service of social transformation and advances the school’s commitment to service-learning and community service.

Chapel attends to the pastoral needs of the school community.

Chapel celebrates key moments and milestones in the broader life of the school and attends to issues, topics, or concerns of the community. It is a place of celebration at times of joy, a place for reflection and dialogue in times of difficulty, and the first place we turn in times of grief or crisis.

When used, technology enhances the sacred purpose of school worship.

Modern technologies such as microphones, recorded or amplified music, and multimedia presentations have an appropriate place in Episcopal school worship, provided that a given technology enhances the sacred purpose of worship and enriches the spiritual lives of those attending the worship service. Care must be taken to balance and blend newer technologies with the communal and very human elements of Episcopal worship such as silence and contemplation, congregational song and prayer, rituals and ritual objects, and personal interaction.

Opportunities are created for spiritual exploration outside of chapel.

Opportunities are created outside of chapel to discuss ultimate questions, learn about and celebrate the world’s faith traditions, and cultivate an appreciation for the sacred and the divine. Service-learning initiatives, units of study or academic courses, opportunities for spiritual reflection, and community events that increase religious understanding are only a few ways that this is accomplished in Episcopal schools.

The school develops and disseminates written statements that describe the purpose and structure of worship and chapel in the life of the school.

Such statements are featured prominently on the school’s website, in student and family handbooks, in the faculty handbook and orientation materials, in vestry and trustee materials, and in admissions view books and other key documents. The admissions office speaks with clarity and conviction about the school’s worship life. Time is taken regularly to review such statements with trustees, the faculty and staff, and parents; and with the vestry members, staff, and other leaders of a school’s sponsoring organization.

The roles of chaplain, head of school, rector, bishop, or other liturgical officers in shaping and leading school worship are well-understood and clearly articulated, especially during times of leadership transition.

  • As stated in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, “the Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, …” (Canon III.9.5[a][1]). Therefore, in parish and cathedral schools, the rector or dean and school leaders regularly review the staffing, structure, frequency, and content of school worship.
  • Seminary and religious order school leaders work in concert with those individuals or groups in their sponsoring organization tasked with overseeing the school’s worship life.
  • Dioceses and diocesan schools sustain an active dialogue about the school’s worship life, including the participation of the bishop or other diocesan clergy.

Regardless of corporate structure or sponsoring institution, the school remains apprised of diocesan policies that may affect Episcopal clergy and Episcopal school worship, and consults with the diocese when undertaking the search for a new chaplain.

The school has a designated chaplain or chaplains with overall responsibility for chapel.

Whether lay or ordained, or full- or part-time, chaplains and other chapel leaders are well-qualified and appropriately trained for their roles and responsibilities. Chaplains who are rectors of parishes that sponsor day schools or early childhood education programs, or who are associate clergy of such parishes, work collaboratively with lay leaders, other clergy, faculty members, and students to create a meaningful and age-appropriate chapel program.

In the absence of ordained clergy, provision is made for appropriate oversight of the school’s sacramental life by ordained persons who can work effectively and collaboratively in an Episcopal school setting.

Clergy and lay leaders work together to insure vibrant and appropriate school worship.

  • In overseeing the worship life of a parish or cathedral school, rectors and deans work closely and collaboratively with the school chaplain, head of school, and other lay leaders.
  • In independent Episcopal schools, the chaplain and head of school work in partnership to steward the school’s worship life.
  • The rector or dean and head of school are visible at chapel and lead by example through their active engagement in the school’s spiritual life.

Chapel is given adequate and appropriate space, staffing, budget, and other resources.

The school incorporates the needs of the school’s worship life into all annual and long-range budgets and planning processes; and uses benchmarks and other relevant data to insure that such needs are appropriately staffed, sufficiently funded, and provided functional space and equipment.

Chaplains and other chapel leaders engage in continuing professional education to expand and deepen their understanding of school ministry.

This may include opportunities for chaplains to visit and observe Episcopal school chapel programs, attend relevant conferences and workshops, and pursue formal graduate or post-graduate studies. Episcopal schools support local or regional networks of Episcopal school chaplains, teachers of religion, and lay worship leaders.

There are regularized mechanisms to review and evaluate the chapel program.

Vibrant and dynamic chapel programs strike a healthy balance between tradition and innovation. Chapel leaders solicit regular feedback, and there are mechanisms to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the form, content, and frequency of school worship.

Principles of Good Practice for Chapel and Worship in Episcopal Schools is intended to serve as a useful framework within which Episcopal schools can shape chapel programs that are grounded in the traditions of the Episcopal Church, that embody the rich heritage of Episcopal schools, and that strengthen the unique Episcopal identity of each school.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided should not be construed as legal advice nor should it be used as a substitute for consulting with legal counsel.