Stranger at the Gate?

I once again had the privilege of hearing the Rev. Paul Lawrence–Wehmiller, this time at the New York State Association of Independent School’s annual Diversity Conference, the theme of which was religious diversity.

In many schools, Paula noted, religion remains “the stranger within the gates,” invisible or ignored, sometimes shunned, and often marginalized. It is time, she said, to “welcome religion at the diversity table.”

Why is this so important? At heart, she said, our students worry, “Will anybody really know who I am?” For children to thrive and not merely succeed, they must be able to share outwardly the story and gifts of who they are inside. To fail to acknowledge and attend to their spiritual and religious lives is to deny their full personhood. They remain in some way always “the stranger.”

In addition, cultural and religious literacy are what she called “sister beings of a quality education.” How can one fully understand, appreciate, and learn from art, music, literature, and history?  Without religious study, exploration, and dialogue, we are limited in our knowledge and understanding of our self, others, and the world.

Episcopal schools have long attended to both religious literacy and the spiritual lives of students. For our schools, then, the question is not “are we doing this?” The question is “how and how well are we doing this?”

Paula challenges us to attend to religion, faith, belief, and identity such that every student receives a quality education and no student remains “a stranger within our gates.”