The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

The Excitement of a New Year

I remember very clearly the “roller coaster” of emotions that accompanied the start of a new school year (both as a student and a teacher). Feelings of eagerness and elation would give way to feelings of doom and despair as each precious day of summer vacation was crossed off of the calendar. The whole roller coaster ride would repeat itself several times a week (sometimes, even more frequently). Although honestly, I was always more excited about the first day of school as an employee as opposed to my days as a student. 

As I am preparing for my first full year on the NAES team, I would describe the dominant emotion I am experiencing as excitement. Why am I excited to be working with NAES?

I honestly believe that the Episcopal identity of our schools is our greatest single asset today. NAES exists to help schools and those serving schools to deepen their collective understanding of what it means to be an Episcopal school. I am excited to be part of that mission. 

How we come together to worship, how we order our community life together, how we approach religious formation and study, and how we understand our commitment to creating a just society serves as the foundation of what it means to be an Episcopal school. A new year presents new opportunities for reflection on how we are living this core identity in our relationships and in our programs on our campuses.

Further, communicating to others how we understand who we are, what we believe, and what we do can also be challenging. Articulating this dimension of your school in authentic and relevant ways has never been more critical. NAES has the expertise, resources, and best practices to not only help you live into this identity, but also to be able to share it clearly with all the members of your community. 

We are coming out of a year and a half of challenges and struggles the likes of which many of us have never experienced before. In light of that reality, I remain excited and encouraged because I know that our Episcopal identity prepares us for whatever challenge we may find ourselves facing today and tomorrow. NAES constantly provides ways for a school to deepen its understanding of Episcopal identity. I am truly excited about working alongside you in this important endeavor.

The Rev. David A. Madison, D.Min. is Executive Director-Elect of the National Association of Episcopal Schools.

The Mysterious Elsewhere

Frank Lloyd Wright once reflected, “I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over the country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the ‘Dakota Badlands.’ What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere—a distant architecture, ethereal… an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” Many summers of life I spent working alongside the Oglala Lakota in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. As soon as the Badlands and other signs of entry to the reservation were in sight, I felt the world kind of fall away. What were essential—the moments for connection and relationship in a sacred place—took precedence and were the only things that mattered. Holy encounter met me. Read More »

The Repair Shop

One might say it's a cop-out to just blog about whatever I've been watching on television recently. As the person tasked with editing this blog, I am constantly wowed by our writers' depth of lived experience or vast wealth of highly nuanced texts from which they draw inspiration.. However, these are the times of Covid, creative pickings are slim, and so I will continue doing what most of us have been for the past year or so—making do. Read More »

Jesus of Nazareth Walks Into a School…

One of the most vexing questions in an Episcopal school is how to be authentically Episcopal and welcoming of all. This question is especially vexing when it comes to religious pluralism among and within the school’s many constituents: students, parents, faculty, trustees, alums, and, if your school is associated with a parish or cathedral, parishioners and Episcopal clergy. Read More »

Becoming a Nobody: an Ash Wednesday Reflection

One of the many reasons I have enjoyed being Chaplain in Episcopal Schools is that I probably spend more time than the average parish priest reading, thinking about, and teaching from wisdom traditions other than Christianity. I’m a Jesus guy at heart—and I know where my allegiances are—but my experience teaching the great wisdom traditions of the world has opened my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching problems that arise in life. Occasionally, I learn something from another tradition that feels entirely compatible with my Christian faith, so much so that I have to remind myself it doesn’t appear anywhere in the gospels. Today I’m referencing the Buddhist idea of nirvana. Read More »

More Patriots, Less Patriarchy

On Monday and Wednesday of this week, we observe two monumental national celebrations, both of which have significant implications for the moral life of the nation—the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday and the Inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. The juxtaposition of these two celebrations invites us to think deeply about two major themes, patriotism and patriarchy. Read More »

Another Way

Last January, I preached a sermon on the Sunday nearest Epiphany, focusing on the theme of “another way.” Matthew’s gospel tells us about how the Magi, having paid homage to Jesus, were warned in a dream to return to their homes “by another way.” What other ways, I asked that Sunday, would God be asking us to ponder, indeed travel this year? Little did I know just what dramatic “other ways” would befall us in 2020. Read More »

Morning Meditation from Biennial Conference 2020

When I first began teaching, I thought academics were all that really mattered. But the more I worked with young people, the more I came to see that great intellect did not always come with a warm heart or a clear moral compass. I saw students crippled by sadness in their lives, or worry, or anxiety or anger and hurt that made learning a shadowy process. Slowly, I came to see not merely their minds but the totality of who they were, and who they were becoming. Read More »