My journey into school chaplaincy started with my ordaining bishop. My vocational plan was to get graduate degrees in Church history and teach in either a seminary or college/university religious studies department. But my then bishop counseled me to serve for a time in a parish, after which if I wanted to do “all that academic stuff,” I could. Where I first served for two years was a combined parish and college campus ministry center, being my introduction to chaplaincy. Having found parish work and chaplaincy exciting, I went on to serve as chaplain of a preK3-12th Grade Episcopal parish day school in Southwestern Louisiana for five years and am now in the fifth year of my chaplaincy of an Episcopal boarding school in Maryland. Thanks to God and that bishop’s counsel, I enjoy being on the Church’s “front lines” via school chaplaincy.
Serving as a school chaplain has made me see how important a mission field Episcopal schools are in these times. Less than half of Millennials (45%) and Gen Z’ers (40%) regularly attend church. Having now served in Episcopal schools for ten years, I have observed an ever-growing level of diversity among our young people. Yet that diversity is not always accepted by others, even by some throughout the Church. This makes many young people find the Church to be judgmental and/or irrelevant. And with the Episcopal Church’s declining membership numbers, new approaches for evangelism need to be discerned and embraced.
I hope that school chaplaincy will be re-embraced by the wider Church and those discerning a call to it encouraged and raised up for ministry. William Augustus Muhlenberg, the “father” of Episcopal school education, showed how Church schools are scholastic institutions made up of different yet equally important people. His own school chaplaincy provides a framework for us to look to in making our institutions diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities that reflect God’s unconditional love. For me, school chaplaincy remains worthwhile work that helps give me life.
The Rev. Brandt L. Montgomery, D.Min. is Chaplain at Saint James School in Hagerstown, MD.