The Holy Places All Around Us

NativityAs we move through the Advent season once again, I am reminded that the stories of Jesus’ birth and early ministry mention many specific places. Place is important in these stories, and it reminds me of the ways that God also makes himself known in many places and settings within our beloved Episcopal schools.

The gospels tell of that wonderfully wild prophet of the desert wilderness near the Jordan River, John the Baptist, who did his ministry far from the supposed centers of political and religious power. Also, we hear of those earthy and wandering shepherds somewhere “in their fields” with the sheep, up at all hours of the night, far away from more polite conventional society. And then, there is the story of Mary and Joseph, on their way to Bethlehem, so that they could register with the powers that be, needing lodging, and only finding shelter in a manger along with wild animals and hay for bedding. We will also soon hear of the place to the East where wise men live, and follow a star carrying gifts from faraway places to give to the Christ child.

These stories remind us that God was at work in all kinds of places in the time of Jesus, but also points to the reality that God is also at work and present in all kinds of places today. The Advent and Christmas seasons remind us, amazingly, just how many holy places are all around us.

Where are the places where God is at work in Episcopal schools? Of course, one might say “the chapel” or “the chaplain’s office.” Of course, the places where God’s work is being done are plentiful in our schools. Certainly, God is not “contained” in the physical structure of a church building, a chapel space, nor solely where the chaplain does her work. God is at work and present among God’s people and out in the world, and in all kinds of places in our schools.The work of school ministry reminds me often of the incarnational aspect of God. The holy places and holy spaces abound in our Episcopal schools! God is “with us” in all kinds of spaces throughout our schools.

Here are but a few reminders I received this week of the holy spaces where I serve here at Berkeley Preparatory School:

  • In the “multi-purpose room” in the midst of an assembly when a fifth grader turned to a first grader and helped him tie his shoelaces, and the first grader thanked the fifth grader with a celebratory “dab.”
  • In a classroom, in the midst of a particularly frustrating English exam, an eighth grader loaned their power cord to a fellow exam taker whose computer was out of power.
  • Backstage at the Christmas & Hanukkah concert, a teacher calmed the nerves of the Silent Night soloist before the soloist sung his heart out on the stage.
  • In exam rooms, anonymous “elves” put out candy canes for exam takers to enjoy.
  • Nearby the soccer field where teachers gathered and shaved the heads in solidarity with a colleague battling cancer.
  • In the parking lot where students and parents loaded up their cars with bags of presents to be brought to children in need.

The holy places abound in our schools. Where are the holy places where you serve?

Christmas reminds us that God became tangibly real in a particular place and time, as the Christ-child in the manger. This season should remind us of the ways that God’s incarnation continues today, and we are blessed with the opportunity to do God’s work in all sorts of places. May our Episcopal schools continue to do this work, and way we all be reminded of the ways that God has blessed our work, and the places where it happens.

May we each be a blessing to someone each day.

Happy Advent & Merry Christmas!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is Chaplain at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida.