Last month in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I am Chaplain at the Episcopal School of Knoxville, our city was frozen under almost 2 inches of solid ice. Then it snowed again, three times. Knoxville schools were closed for two entire weeks.
I was not complaining. Until we missed Ash Wednesday. In my experience, young people really attach to the experience of receiving ashes, and I really hated to miss it.
So, we observed “Ash Monday” when we returned. At my school we often transfer feasts so the community can observe them at a time when they will be well received. School life lends itself to flexibility and innovation. Unsurprisingly, Ash Monday was brilliant. It was powerful and reverent, and the school community—a group of people representing a score of religious traditions or none at all—went right along with it.
Why should the culture of our churches not be more like this?
Two weeks before The Ice Age of 2015©, the Diocese of East Tennessee welcomed Luther Seminary professor and author, Dwight Zscheile, as convention keynoter. Zscheile has written two excellent books about the future of Episcopal mission and identity, People of the Way and The Agile Church. With the blessing of our bishop, he challenged the parishes of our diocese to start experimenting with church; to think of congregations as laboratories of ministry design; to resist equating the permanence of an idea or program with its success; to do something like…Ash Monday.
I am not tooting my own horn.
Actually, I am not as much offering Ash Monday as a grand idea as I am emphasizing the much bigger question it raises: In what other ways are Episcopal schools and chapel programs uniquely qualified to contribute to and offer leadership for the changing missional needs of Episcopal churches?
That is not a question for me to answer, but one I hope schools and churches will ponder together.
The Rev. Joshua Hill is the Chaplain at The Episcopal School of Knoxville in Knoxville, Tennessee. Founded in 1998, The Episcopal School of Knoxville serves 360 students in Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade.