I grew up in the Episcopal Church all across the country so when my calling to the priesthood came together, I knew that my vocation would be to serve young people in some way. I had been a youth director before going to Virginia Theological Seminary, which is conveniently located near two Episcopal schools. While exploring Field Education options, I was able to spend some time at St. Stephen St. Agnes School. I loved my month at the Lower School observing their chaplain’s religion classes. I remember thinking that might be a pretty good way to spend your days. After seminary, I spent a couple of years at a Church, but it didn’t feel quite right. I took a break from full-time ministry while I was expecting my second child; but, when he was a baby, I got a message from the chaplain at Episcopal High School. Her assistant had left suddenly, and she needed someone to fill in for a year while she did a search. She wondered if I might be interested. And I sure was! I had a wonderful year teaching and assisting with chapel. During that year, the chaplain at St. Stephen St. Agnes Lower School announced her retirement, and I quickly got my foot in the door. I won’t be leaving anytime soon!
I love being a school chaplain because I get to spend all day with my congregation – and they have to come to my classes! There is no asking people to register or reminding them. When people ask what I do, I say that I teach Sunday school all week. It is a joyful and chaotic way to spend my days. We have chapel every week, too, and there is nothing quite like looking out at 438 little faces. I do pray for a lot of dead pets, and I sometimes struggle to find hymns that would work for 3 – 12-year-olds, but I wouldn’t be anywhere else. One great personal joy is that my two older children get to come to school with me every day. Our youngest will join soon. A few students even call me “Rev. Mrs. James’ mom.” I feel so lucky to be called to share the Bible with these young students every day. Even if I am tired or grouchy, their boundless energy and outgoing spirits inspire me to be my best self and to be present with them. Each student brings their own unique experiences and knowledge to my classes and it makes each one different. Being a Lower School chaplain keeps me on my toes and thinking about the Bible. If anyone has a good answer on what day God created dinosaurs—please send it my way!
The Rev. Grace A. Pratt is Lower School Chaplain at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, VA.