For the Love of Chaplains

HeartLast week, the NAES Facebook feed was filled with photos of schools celebrating Valentine’s Day, from colored-paper hearts filled with messages of love to campuses filled with students dressed in red. It got me thinking about the many kinds of love we feel and share with one another and how, so often, it’s hard it is to put these into words.

Which led me to chaplains.There is a saying in Episcopal school circles that goes something like this: “I can’t exactly explain what a chaplain does but you can feel the difference it makes.” Or there was the new school head struggling to get her arms around the “E” in her school’s mission and, specifically, what exactly to do with these people called chaplains with whom she had no experience. And then a faculty member died. And she, too said, “All of I sudden, I got it. It’s hard to explain. But now that I’ve lived it, I know why our chaplains are so important.”

Episcopal school chaplains offer love and presence in a million different ways. Of course there are those ceremonial roles that are easy to pin down—leading chapel, offering prayers at special occasions, teaching religion classes. But those of us who have been lucky enough to have worked with remarkable chaplains—and I count myself in that crowd—know that there is something intangible and yet wholly tangible about the lived presence of chaplains in our schools, day in and day out, loving us, reminding us of what’s really important, making space for that still small voice of God amidst the higgledy-piggledy craziness of everyday life and, yes, helping us to grieve or celebrate when we need to do that together.

So last week my mind and heart once more turned to our chaplains, in all their glory and diversity—the silly ones and the serious ones, the ones that make us laugh and the ones that make us reflect, and all of the others in between. We may not always know how to describe what they do, but we know—no, we feel—that our lives and our schools would be lesser places, and less holy and sacred places, without them.