Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.Psalm 29:2
We know how essential worship services are in our schools when our grown students come back to their roots and ask to be married or have their children baptized there. All of us who have spent a good portion of our lives in Episcopal schools feel like we have come home when we worship together. The familiar words and responses, the hymns we all know by heart ring out in our very souls. We know with certainty that we are truly children of God. Students often bring their parents to church on Sundays because they want to go to the “school’s church.” Many families go on to join the church and have not had a church home before because of a child leading them.
What makes our schools’ worship services so important and meaningful? Is it the beautiful sanctuary we share with the parish? No. Although it certainly enhances worship, one of my favorite ways to start church in the school Commons on rainy days when we cannot cross the street to get to the main church is to ask this question in a loud voice, “Who is the Church?” All the students have learned to respond shouting back, “WE ARE!” It reminds us that we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, and it is our turn to carry on his work.
It is also a poignant reminder from the Prayer of St. Chrysostom, “You have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.”
Bringing nature into the worship service gives students an experience of being in and appreciating all of God’s creation. Our school has expanded in the last four years with the addition of a new campus to include a high school division. This spring we will have our first graduating class. Most of the time the setting for our services is in the Commons. The wall behind where the altar sits is all glass, looking out to the forest behind it. We occasionally have the chance to experience nature up close during worship when the Eastern bluebirds, Canada geese, or other birds want to join us. Sometimes deer appear at the clearing or an Eagle soars overhead. This setting brings nature into our worship experience. When the weather permits, all of us can worship outside on the plaza. Students realize that worship can happen anywhere. Taking care of all of God’s creation, not just the people, close friends, and family members becomes a part of them.
Students enjoy leading chapel, reading, and serving in many different capacities. We honor their service by allowing them to make mistakes without pointing them out in front of others, by asking them to take on responsibilities that other adults do, by depending on them, and then thanking them for their contributions. Some students have a true “God-call” and need to be guided along that path by trusted adults and clergy who also recognize it.
Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. Holiness, joy, and peace through prayer are not reserved for clergy. If we all strive to live our lives as a prayer, worship will be a by-product. This joy is contagious, and you will be spreading the gospel without even knowing it!
The above reflection is from the perspective of a teacher, a head of school, and a permanent deacon who then became a priest. At the end of this school year, I will have been at Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School for 54 years.
The Rev. Frances “Boo” Kay+ is the Head of School at Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School in Lake Charles, LA.