“I was afraid, but I learned to trust my doctors as my parents and I decided that I needed to have a fairly experimental knee surgery.” Chris, an 8th grader, connected this story during middle school chapel to the trust that Abraham and Sarah exhibited when God called them to leave their home. As the K-8 chaplain at Campbell Hall, I observe how the students in all of our divisions are willing to be vulnerable as they speak to their fellow classmates and faculty in chapel.
Why is it that they seem so willing to share their faults, mistakes, fears, and struggles in such a public setting? Many of the reasons are rooted in the way that Episcopal schools create an atmosphere in the classroom, chapel, and other areas of school life. Initially, students come to learn that school is a safe place where their opinions and beliefs are respected. They are nurtured through the advisory program, personal relationships with teachers, and heartfelt classroom discussions facilitated by faculty to know that being vulnerable is healthy and safe. An 8th grader used her chapel talk to “come out” with her sexual orientation because she knew it was safe. Additionally, through the regular telling of Biblical stories, the students come to learn that these great characters of faith in the Bible struggle with issues as well.
These Biblical stories reveal people who have faults and make mistakes but also have opportunity for new beginnings and forgiveness. A 6th grader recently connected the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers to the time when he did not exhibit good sportsmanship; then after the game he went up to the player from the other team and apologized. Furthermore, students recognize that as leaders in their divisions, truth telling does not make them weak leaders, but strong ones. One student council officer in middle school shared how not making the volleyball team in her 7th grade year was very difficult at first, but she turned that rejection into an opportunity to focus on her academic work and to explore the things that she never would have otherwise. Finally, regular chapel worship in Episcopal schools creates a place of reflection, sharing, and prayerfulness that nurture a deep sense of community where vulnerability is the norm, not the exception.
In our world today, encouraging and finding opportunities for our young people to be vulnerable is an important gift that we give them and hopefully it has an impact on our society as they become adult leaders.
About the Author
The Rev. Norman Hull is the K-8 Chaplain at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, California. He has served as a parish priest and chaplain during his 22 years of ordained ministry. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 1985 and CDSP (Church Divinity School of the Pacific) in 1995.