Episcopal Identity: Reflections from a Trustee

I am a leader of an Episcopal school because I know its Episcopal identity nourishes our children’s minds and enriches their lives in and out of school. Maintaining and strengthening that identity in the school day is not difficult, with thought.

We are fortunate to have been established by Grace Church and have access to the beautiful sanctuary as we wish. So almost all of our secular meetings and every chapel are held within it where it is impossible not to feel its influence. We retreat to it in times of crisis and sorrow and fill it for celebrations. The curriculum, faculty, and administration live and speak our mission and so animate our identity.

For a leader, however, the real issue is how to bring meaning to our parents, few of whom are Episcopalians and many of whom are unchurched. The core of the effort must begin with the board of trustees. Just as in every Sunday service in the church where the Apostle’s Creed must be recited, each of our trustees is taught at their orientation that they must articulate the mission; that each conversation with a school parent about Grace must be informed by our mission. Board meetings and retreats are opportunities to remind the trustees of the essentials of our identity.

We are now well along in planning to open a high school division. From the very beginning, each decision was influenced by how it would add or detract from our mission and identity in the high school itself and just as importantly, in our current school. So, for example, its location must allow easy access to the Church sanctuary. Its size must be amenable to continuing the spiritual lives of our current students and so it cannot be so large that new students overwhelm our culture. Town hall meetings and open houses at the proposed site have immersed our parents in the planning and afforded another opportunity to talk about the mission. It has been enormously gratifying to see the board keep our mission in the forefront of our planning.

In the final analysis though, leadership means moving beyond “informing” conversations or “living” the mission. It means actually saying things that are quite embarrassing in our age: we believe in respect for others, in the value of reason, that religion and spirituality have a prominent place in our daily lives, and that we must serve and sacrifice for others. But above all else it means we must be willing to express the essential premise of our school: that each of our students is a child of God who receives His love as an act of His will—as a gift, not something earned—simply because each is His child. And every parent hearing that and looking at his or her child immediately understands our school and its identity.