The first days of school are soon upon us and we all know what that means: handbooks. Employee handbooks, parent handbooks, student handbooks and, yes, even trustee handbooks! These handbooks teach us the rules: what to wear, when to arrive, how to sign in and sign out, and who to tell that we are sick. Yes, it’s time for handbooks, and handbooks mean rules.
But anyone who has ever lived in a community with fellow human beings knows that there are rules and then there are customs. Because what really define our schools are not the handbooks and rule books – however important they may be – but our values and culture. And in this department, St. Benedict was on to something.
To be sure, Benedictine communities, much like schools, operate by rather precise rules and schedules. But Benedict understood the need for a Rule. Not a random list of arbitrary dos and don’ts, but a higher purpose – way of being that needed to be stated overtly and held up daily. The small, easily digestible Rule of St. Benedict, expressed in straightforward, elegant, and regularly repeated words, formed the core values and purpose of a Benedictine life. “We wish this rule to be read often in the community,” he noted “so that none can offer the excuse of ignorance. “
As Episcopal schools, we are called to be and offer something more than simply “schooling.” We seek to create communities of sacred purpose in the context of secular lives – to bring the holy into the everyday. We do this not as monastics, but as everyday folk engaging in everyday life. As we begin a new school year, what is our school’s “Rule” and how might we insure that it “be read often in the community” so that all might better live by it?